Following a junior season in which he set the Big Ten record for receiving yards for a single a season with 1,545, Evans was forced to endure two painful surgeries and that led to a medical redshirt year. However, despite the time off the field and the excruciating rehab process, the 5-11, 202-pound speed merchant from Bedford, Ohio is back to his old form in 2003 and is again one of the top receivers in the Big Ten as well as the entire nation.
He earned All-Conference honors this season with his 60 catches for 1,162 yards while scoring a dozen touchdowns.
Commenting on his comeback, Evans says. "There was a big mental adjustment. You have got to be able to play on it, not only for one game but throughout the whole season. And that is one of the things that I kept telling myself even though early in the season I was not where I wanted to be."
With the strong numbers from his senior season, Evans has become the second leading receiver in Big Ten history with 3,417 yards. Evans also holds the Wisconsin records for receptions with 171 and receiving touchdowns with 26. He has an impressive career average of 20 yards per catch. Containing the Badger receiver is a high priority for the Auburn defense when it faces Wisconsin in the Music City Bowl on New Year's Eve in Nashville, Tenn.
Evans says that despite the fact the Badgers and Tigers both finished the season with lower than expected totals in the win column he is very excited about his final game at Wisconsin. "It's a great opportunity," the senior says. "They had, obviously, high hopes going into the season and were recognized by a lot of people, and so were we. As the season played out some things happened with both schools--injuries and such and things didn't pan out the way we both thought they would. But right now we are matched up as two very good football teams whose seasons didn't go the way that they had hoped, but it is still a great opportunity. We know the potential of this Auburn team and we have got to come out and match them."
Wisconsin jumped out to a 6-1 start that included a win over defending national champion Ohio State on October 11. That victory in Madison was capped with a 79-yard, game winning touchdown catch by Evans with 5:20 remaining in the game. The Badgers then went on a major slide, losing four of their last five games to finish the season at 7-5 before accepting the Big Ten's bid to the Music City Bowl to face the Tigers.
As for what caused things to go south in Madison, Evans says that he doesn't have an explanation. "It is hard to say exactly what it was, you know, what went wrong," he says. "But we were in a lot of close games and we just couldn't come out on the top end of them. We were just a few plays away in each game from being where we wanted to be."
He says that no matter how disappointing Wisconsin's season was he is excited about every chance he gets to play college football. "Anytime you step on the field it is another opportunity to play and another opportunity to represent your university. And we know what we can do as a team, and if we go out there and play like we know how good things will happen."
Evans says stepping onto the field against the top competition from around the country is what makes the game special to him. "It is one of the reasons why you come to play college football, to play different teams, to play different conferences and match up against a lot of different people in the nation. So, we have got a tremendous amount of respect for the SEC and their style of football and the way they play, but we have still got to go out an do our job and play the way we know how to play.
"It's always fun," Evans adds. "These games are fun--kind of what you look forward to when you are playing college football."
Come game time, Evans will likely draw a matchup with the Tigers' most experienced corner in Carlos Rogers. That is likely to be coupled with some double-team help from the Tigers' safeties, Will Herring and Junior Rosegreen, on many plays. Evans says that could make it tough for him to put up his usual gaudy numbers in his final game as a Badger.
"Athletic--and that goes to speak for their whole defense," Evans says about the Tigers. "In the secondary they have got some guys that can move around. And we have got to be on top of our assignments if we expect to be successful. They run very well and they move very well. That is one of the biggest things that I have seen watching them, just how athletic they are."
Auburn's Rogers says that Evans is one of the best receivers he has faced and says that keeping the Wisconsin senior from beating the Tigers deep will be a key to victory. "He is the type of receiver who does everything well," Rogers says.
Kickoff time for the Music City Bowl is 11 a.m. on Dec. 31st from The Coliseum in downtown Nashville. The Badgers will arrive in Nashville on Dec. 27 while Rogers and the rest of the Tigers will report on Nashville a day earlier.