Of course even Evans and other Mississippi State upperclassmen have to build up a breath or two themselves before joshing at any younger Bulldog. Coach Jim Nowell's July program pushes every participating player, whether on lifting days or conditioning days. Tuesday was one of the latter, with all the players enrolled in the second summer semester spending a hot, humid afternoon hour running and jumping around the plastic turf.
Given his upperclassman stature another summer's sweat shouldn't be any fun at all for Evans. Yet he honestly wouldn't want to be anywhere else this July. "I'd rather not take the summer off. It ain't going to help you down at the end! But we've got a pretty good program going this summer. We've been working hard when the sun is up, giving us endurance for fall camp." Which means the guys on campus this month have two more work-weeks to endure before preseason practices begin on August 4.
"Everybody is looking forward to fall camp," Evans said, and the general attitude Tuesday backed that up. There was little if any grumbling in the ranks over the hour, not even among those who had to stick around to run penalty laps. A score other Dogs stayed late for another, more positive reason. Passers, receivers, and defensive backs remained on the field for some impromptu throwing-game drills, obviously with no coaches present. Nor were any needed with Omarr Conner cracking the whip as if he was the boss.
Evans and his defensive line-mates also stuck around five extra minutes, doing mock ‘rush' drills in four-man groupings. It was honorable work, he agreed, but August can't get here soon enough. "I can't wait, I love the contact," Evans said. He had another reason to put in some additional work, as there is the matter of getting a repaired ankle ready for camp. Evans didn't do all of the unit straightaway-sprints at the start of Tuesday's workout, instead making some side-to-side shuffles to stretch out the joint first.
"It's pretty good," Evans insisted. "It healed faster than I thought it would, I'm back out here running. I'll be OK, you can't keep a big Dog down too long, you know?!"
What this seniors knows is that he goes into his final fall not listed first on the depth chart. Soph-to-be Titus Brown was moved from linebacker to end in spring and goes into camp as #1, with Michael Heard first on the other end. Evans, tied with back Jerious Norwood on this roster for most career games and starts, is not conceding the first defensive snap against Murray State to anyone just yet.
"That's part of it, just competing for positions. I'm looking forward to it, I've just got to get healthy and get back on the gridiron, fast."
And if any other motivation was needed for the varsity, Evans is impressed on the whole with the freshmen already on campus. Some of these rookies intend to do more than just offer fresh depth; they want to play ball now. Evans, who broke into the lineup as a true frosh himself in 2002, naturally can speak from his own experience.
"I think all of them can help us but you can't tell at this point, they can look like all-American players coming in but when the pads come on it can be different, you know?" Yes, but it's just as true that new blood might get to make a difference in 2005…if nobody gets their freshman-feelings hurt by the occasional cackle from an old hound.
"They might take it personal," Evans says. "But at the same time we're trying to motivate them to come on out here and get in shape so they'll be halfway-prepared for the fall. They definitely adjust, some get in shape quick and look pretty good out there."
Maybe even good enough to put a senior on his toes. After all, what veteran would want to have a well-adjusted freshman grinning at him? "It's motivation for me to get back in tip-top shape and get ready for camp," Evans agreed.