Steve Devlin could see the big football picture as far back as 1988.

Even then he was savvy enough to realize, if there's no O standing in front, it's incumbent upon X to do something.

On a play where he caught a touchdown pass that season for Archbishop Ryan High, the smallish slotback was supposed to hang around and knock people over.

But . . .

"There was no one for me to block," he said afterward. "So, being a receiver and wanting to catch the ball, I walked downfield a step. I put my hands up and Bill [Sachs] threw it to me. It was a great job by him just to find me. He always looks around. He knew I'd be over there anyway."

Twenty years later, Devlin didn't know he'd be the head coach of a high-school football team, let alone one - Archbishop Wood, of Warminster - that tomorrow night has a chance to collect a state championship for the Catholic League in its first year of PIAA membership. Deep down, though, he can't say he's shocked he opted for this side profession (he's also an accountant).

First things first: Wood's opponent tomorrow night, 7 o'clock, at HersheyPark Stadium will be Thomas Jefferson, of Jefferson Hills, about 15 miles south-southwest of Pittsburgh, a two-time defending champ.

Second: Devlin loves what he's doing.

At Ryan, Devlin was a first team coaches' All-Catholic receiver for a championship team and, in baseball, once brought home the winning run in a playoff game with a 13th-inning squeeze bunt. He also played basketball.

"Football's the one I love," he said. "It's the total team game. You have to have 11 guys doing their job all at once for any play to work. I love the strategy and preparation. All week you're working toward that one game. Putting everything into it. It's the greatest sport in the world."

Meanwhile, this is likely the most hectic week of his life. The next breath he catches will only be shallow and soon he will schedule a session to reacquaint himself with family members.

Plus, his cell phone is about to catch fire.

"If I have to put up with all the calls and interviews, well, to see the kids' reaction as we keep going forward, it's all worth it and I'd do it every day of the week," he said. "I'm so happy and proud of the kids. This has changed their lives."

Devlin landed at Wood from St. Joseph's Prep, where he assisted Gil Brooks for seven seasons and ascended to offensive coordinator.

Designing plays was part of his grooming. He learned much more, he said, about how to set goals and then let nothing stand in the way of attaining them.

"Anybody can run anything," he said. "But the key is knowing how to do it. Without that skill, you're going nowhere. Gil is so organized. I could never repay him for what he taught me in that area."

Wood was hardly woeful pre-Devlin. In fact, the Vikings captured Catholic Blue titles under Art Barrett in '03 and then again in '04 and '05 under Joe Powel. When Powel departed after the '06 season, everyone assumed one of his underlings would get the job. Or perhaps a person with previous Wood connections.

Devlin thought so, too. Didn't even apply, actually. There was a snag. The administration reopened its search. Devlin tried and triumphed.

The entire sequence produced some behind-the-scenes grumbling.

"I wasn't worried too much about what people were going to think," he said. "I just knew that once they got a chance to know me, and see what I was about, I'd win them over. The school and people were great to me. I didn't feel any kind of resentment."

Pause. Hint of a chuckle.

"If there had been, knowing me, I wouldn't have cared anyway." *