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THE ROCK FROM THE ISLAND
converting from basketball to football, and becoming the man of the house at age 9,
Mike Evans is certainly a testament to toughness
by Homer Jacobs
12th Man Magazine
Trailing 27-17 midway through the fourth quarter and facing third-and-19 from its own 3, Texas A&M needed a heave and a prayer to somehow stay in the game with Mississippi.
The Aggie coaches were in a major bind with this play-call, as then-offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury’s tiny play sheet probably didn’t have many options for this dire, third-down situation.
Wide receivers coach David Beaty knew there was only one way out of this mess.
“I looked at Kliff and said let’s set trips to the field and throw it up to Mike (Evans),” Beaty said. “There’s nothing else better we can do. Just throw it up and see if he can go get it. And (Johnny Manziel) threw it up, and he went up and got it. It was probably a defining play for him as well as our season.”
Indeed, Evans made a spectacular over-the-helmet catch along the sideline, as the Aggies rallied for the improbable 30-27 victory over the Rebels in one of the most remarkable comebacks in A&M football history. The win galvanized the team en route to a stunning 11-2 season in the Aggies’ maiden run through the Southeastern Conference.
Fortunately, the Aggies could look to their basketball player turned football freak.
“We actually worked on that,” Beaty said of the high-wire catch. “We have a drill called the (Randy) Moss drill, where we teach them to go over a guy and catch it over him. In kids’ terms, they call that ‘Mossing.’ He ‘Mossed’ the guy. For all intents and purposes, the ball should have been picked off.”
Evans, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound sophomore from Galveston Ball High School, displayed some serious Randy-Moss like talent in his first year as a starter for the Aggies in 2012, catching 82 passes for 1,105 yards. Only Ryan Swope’s 89 receptions in 2011 top Evans’ single-season mark in the annals of Aggie football.
Ironically, Evans almost didn’t make it to Texas A&M or any other college campus to play football. He was a basketball star in high school, averaging 18.3 points and 8.4 rebounds as a senior for Ball High.
Evans, who personally enjoys his between-the-legs dunk off the bounce, was a hoops highlight reel on the island, as fans packed the Ball High gym to watch one of Galveston’s all-time greatest athletes.
His basketball prowess drew attention across the state, as Texas topped his scholarship offer list. And because Evans had played just one year of high school football, certainly his future would be on the hardwood.
- Mike Evans
“I did both sports growing up, but when I got to high school I chose to focus on basketball,” says the soft-spoken Evans. “And my senior year, I came out and played football. The coaches tried to get me out to play my sophomore year when they saw my height and everything. I just put them off. My friends told me at the end of my junior year to come play, so I decided to play.
“It was a 50-50 decision: Texas for basketball or A&M for football. I was like, ‘Why play football this last year and not pursue it in the future?’ So, I decided to play football. Football was going to be the best as a life choice.”
A raw football prospect out of high school, Evans was garnering some attention from schools around the state. While A&M jumped on Evans’ recruiting trail late, the allure of Aggieland closed the deal with Evans on a trip to College Station during Cotton Bowl preparations in 2010.
He had never seen a game at Kyle Field, and yet Evans didn’t hesitate in accepting a scholarship offer from then-head coach Mike Sherman.
“It was Dec. 18, I committed that day,” Evans added. “I liked it. It’s close to home, and I liked A&M from the jump.”
But as easy as it was to make the decision to attend A&M, Evans hasn’t glided through life like on one of his takeoffs on a Rec Center dunk.
In fact, the adversity Evans has had to overcome is revealed in plain sight, a lifetime of memories borne out on his tattooed arms. On his right arm reads: “R.I.P” near his bicep and “Mickey” near his elbow.
“Mickey” is a reference to Evans’ father, Mike Evans Jr., who was murdered during some kind of feud when Evans was just 9 years old.
“The day of his funeral, he went and played a Little League football game,” said Evans’ mother, Heather Kilgore. “He scored two touchdowns that day. He said, ‘I wish my daddy could have seen it.’ And I told him he did. And then he kind of looked up and said, ‘Yeah, I think he did, too.’”
Indeed, Evans’ tough demeanor on the football field is only surpassed by his resolve off of it.
“I just looked at it as everyone has to go at some point, and that was his time,” said Evans, who is the father of a 1-year-old girl. “I know he’s looking down on me proud right now. Everything I do, I do for him to make him proud.”
So far at A&M, mission accomplished. Evans has transformed from a lanky, raw prospect into an All-SEC beast. With his strong hands, long arms and incredible body control, Evans appears in line for a monster year in 2013.
As the lone returning starter in the Aggie receiving corps, Evans will be the main target in A&M’s insanely explosive offense.
Last season, Evans was one of the league’s best wideouts as a redshirt freshman, and he played half of the season with a gimpy hamstring.
“It was nagging,” Evans said of his injury. “I hurt it against La. Tech, and then I kept re-straining it every week. I tried my hardest to go full speed, and every time I did I’d hear it pop again. It was painful, and I had to get it wrapped and have shots…it was painful. It was frustrating, but I just kept doing what I can to help the team. “
In fall camp so far, Evans has shown no signs of hamstring problems, turning heads daily with his improved route running and knack for the big play.
“He can be scary when healthy because he played half of the season if not more with a nagging hamstring,” Beaty said. “He still practiced. We tried to hold him out, but he simply wouldn’t let us. That dude is tough.
“Right now in fall camp, I told him, ‘You look so much better than you have because you’re playing fast, you don’t have any nagging injuries. You really took care of your body in the offseason. You did all the things necessary before you got to the field to make sure you were where you are today.’ It’s part of the maturation process. But he can be scary good.”
Evans was already a nightmare matchup for smaller defensive backs...just ask 5-foot-9 Ole Miss cornerback Senquez Golson, who was on the embarrassing end of the “Mossing” by Evans in perhaps the play of the year for the Aggies in 2012.
Now that he has grasped the nuances of Kevin Sumlin’s offense and the game of football itself, Evans is on the fast track to more stardom and a career in the NFL.
Not bad for a former power forward from Galveston Ball.
“He understands spatial awareness,” Beaty added. “He knows how to get into passing lanes. In basketball, it’s all about passing lanes and creating a passing lane so you can receive the ball. Playing receiver is very much the same. His body control and body position is so good because he knows how to rebound.
“We run a play where he runs a 10-yard stop, and against cover 2 that’s not a very good play because the corner just sits on it. But we’ll keep that on with him because he’ll run out there and box the guy out, and Johnny can get it to him. Mike understands how to go out there and position himself so the guy can’t get between him and the ball.”
There’s little, it seems—outside of the uncertainty with Manziel—that can come between the Aggies and an assault on the school’s and the NCAA’s offensive record books this fall.
The Aggies are loaded across the board, from their salty offensive line, to their slew of talented running backs, to the arrival of perhaps the best freshman wide receiver class in school history.
Imagine A&M lining up two 6-5 receivers in Evans and freshman Ricky Seals-Jones, along with 6-6 tight end Cameron Clear…the possibilities are mind-boggling.
Just how good could A&M be?
“Probably the best ever,” Evans said flatly. “If everybody plays to their potential, and we get it down pat and play with discipline, we can probably be one of the best offenses ever in college football.
“It’s a dream come true. We’ve got a great system, Coach Sumlin, a great offense, the best player in the country in Johnny Manziel. We have one of the best o-lines, and we have young receivers but we’re talented. They make big plays. Since I’ve been here, they’re the best coming in as receivers. Better than I was when I came in.”
For the normally reserved Mike Evans, that’s certainly saying a lot.
- Nov. 13 - Yes, Sir (Kevin Sumlin)
- Nov. 6 - Never Say Die (Travis Labhart)
- Oct. 30 - Do-It-All Deshazor (Deshazor Everett)
- Oct. 16 - The Right Move (Cedric Ogbuehi)
- Oct. 9 - Maroon Machine (Aggie Offense)
- Sept. 23 - One Cool Customer (Malcome Kennedy)
- Sept. 11 - Family First (Jake Matthews)
- Sept. 10 - Conversation Topic
- Sept. 4 - The Rock from The Island (Mike Evans)
- Aug. 28 - Rising Son (Toney Hurd, Jr.)
- Aug. 14 - Big Ben (Ben Malena)