- Front Porch
WALLINGFORD — Standing in his father’s kitchen, Keith DeVit Jr. lifted up his shirt sleeve to reveal round, gray marks and black-and-blue bruises along his arm.
“This one is a scar,” DeVit said Wednesday, pointing to the circular mark on his bicep.
The scars and bruises are marks left from paintballs. The 26-year-old Wallingford native is a professional paintballer, who currently plays for the Houston Heat — a team based in Texas. DeVit played for a number of semi-professional teams, he said, before going pro in 2011.
He got involved in the sport in 2004. When his friends started to participate in paintball games, DeVit said he asked his father, Keith DeVit Sr., if he could join them.
He didn’t receive permission right away, DeVit Jr. said, adding that it was a “few years” before he could play with his friends.
“Drawing a gun on your kid and pulling the trigger? It didn’t add up,” DeVit Sr. said.
DeVit Sr. said he eventually “caved,” and bought his son his first paintball gun and mask. His son didn’t know he made the purchase, coming home one day and seeing the mask placed on the table “out in the open.”
Reflecting on his early days in the sport, DeVit Jr. said he and his friends played in the woods near North Plains Industrial Road. They would also play at Hogan’s Alley, a paintball facility at 998 N. Colony Road in Meriden.
It was in Meriden where DeVit Jr. would begin his paintball career. In 2007, he tried out and made the Division II team in Meriden. He played in his first national tournament with the team.
The following year, he began playing for New England Express, a semi-professional team. The team “fell apart,” DeVit Jr. said, and merged with a Rhode Island-based team. Unhappy with the situation surround his then-team, DeVit Jr. said he stopped playing.
But he couldn’t stay away, as he returned to the sport months later and bounced around the semi-pro circuit, with stints for multiple teams. Eventually, he had the opportunity to have a private tryout with a professional team, the Omaha Vicious. Still, DeVit Jr. acknowledged he “wanted more,” and was ultimately offered a spot with the Houston Heat after participating in a private practice.
He recently signed a contract with the Heat.
DeVit Jr. said after signing, he still found it hard to believe he was a part of a professional team. It’s rare, he said, to have someone on the East Coast make it to the professional levels, because the climate limits the playing season. He knows of just two others from the East Coast to make it to professional paintball, DeVit Jr. said.
“People were saying it’s not there, but that drove me,” DeVit Jr. said of his choice to stay with the sport. “I wanted it.”
His commitment paid off. As part of a professional team, DeVit Jr. is able to travel the country and even the world. Looking at his schedule for the future, he said he’s going to travel to Norway for a paintball clinic, as well as other countries to compete. He’s had success, finishing in the top positions in various tournaments. He’s even made appearances in paintball videogames.
“You can be him,” DeVit Sr. quipped.
One of his biggest accomplishments was winning the World Cup last year.
The World Cup is a tournament organized by the Paintball Sports Promotions, one of two American national tournament series. Matches follow a capture-the-flag approach, with two teams of five members trying to collect seven points. This year’s World Cup is held in Polk City, Fla., in October.
“It’s unbelievable,” said DeVit Sr. “I’m super proud of him. He did it a different way ... I’m still beside myself that he did it. A lot of people said why are you bothering with it and he stuck with it. He followed his dream and now he’s living his dream.”
As a professional, DeVit Jr. travels to practice with his team every month and a half. Two weeks before a match, the team gets together to practice and goes over strategies. The team’s first match is in March.
When asked why he enjoys the sport, a smile broke out on DeVit Jr.’s face.
“The adrenaline rush,” he said. “There’s nothing like hunting and being hunted.”
Shooting from behind large inflatable barriers and running around a field trying to dodge others shooting at you with a gun that has the ability to shoot 30 paintballs per second is what DeVit Jr. provides that adrenaline.
The father and son laughed as they reflected back on DeVit Jr.’s career and how it all began years ago.
“He went from the woods to Disney World,” DeVit Sr. said. “He went from walking in the woods to getting out cars to now getting out of jets.”
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