Michael Evans Receives Reward For Hard Work

It was at the top of the August 17th practice report: 'Mississippi State head football coach Sylvester Croom awarded five former walk-on players scholarships for the 2005 school year Wednesday.' While most of us probably didn't catch the significance of it being at the top of that day's practice report, the five football players involved and Coach Croom did.

One of those five was defensive tackle Michael Evans, a fourth-year junior walk-on from Olive Branch High School. The significance to Michael was indeed great. And for many reasons beyond just having his year of school being paid for.

"As you know, I was born a State fan, and this has been a dream of mine since I first came here," said the still excited Evans, who turned down offers from Illinois, Arkansas State, UT-Martin and a host of Division-1AA and D-2 schools to live out his dream of playing for State. "It finally feels like all the hard work I've put in and all the surgeries that I have been through are finally paying off. But I think my parents are more happy than I am, because they have seen all the ups and downs that I have gone through, especially the downs. I couldn't have done it without my parents. And I thank God for them every day."

Evans explained in detail how Coach Croom extended the scholarship offers to not only him, but to seniors Britt Cross, Marcus Evans and Jeremy Jack, and sophomore Jonathan Hill.

"We were having a team meeting and Coach Croom said 'I haven't told these individuals yet, but I think I will tell them here in the team meeting'," Evans explained "Right when he said my name I though to myself, I'm in trouble. I'm either going to have to do defensive runs or something else. I almost didn't want to stand up, but I did. Then he called out Marcus Evans, so I thought, ok, I might be alright (laugh). He then told us that he was putting us on full athletic scholarships. I got excited and my knees got weak, because I didn't know anything about it and didn't expect anything. All I do is come out and play football."

However, playing football at Mississippi State hasn't always been easy for Evans due to the numerous obstacles that he has run into.

"They call me man-down because I have had so much stuff happen to me," said Evans, referring to a term used when someone goes down in the line of duty. "My first year here, I had shoulder reconstruction. I will never forget the words coming out of (MSU head trainer) Paul Mock's mouth, 'maybe you should give it up.' I remember him telling my mother that. I have to admit that I went home and shed tears because I thought this was it. I had been playing football since I was six years old. Then, I had thumb surgery last year. And I just messed my ankle up recently."

Plus, he's not only had to deal with the numerous injuries, but moving from position to position during his years at State.

"In high school, I played defensive tackle most of the time," said Evans. "My freshman year (at MSU), they moved me to center. My sophomore year, I played center/guard. When Coach Croom came in, they moved me to defensive tackle and I've been there ever since."

What has kept him from giving it all up and just being a normal student?

"I guess my inner will and my family kept me from giving up," said Evans. "It's hard for me to give up on anything even if I'm second best at it. And my family are always in it for me to do the best that I can. Even if it's not first place, they'll still accept it and continue backing me."

While he decided to stick with it, the way he viewed himself as a player and the opportunity of playing football changed.

"I used to walk around with a swagger, like I was the best thing on the field," said the 6-0, 275-pounder. "The surgery changed my demeanor. I guess it changed me to the point where I am just grateful for the opportunity to play this game."

During all those injuries and position shifts, was there ever a time when he thought about moving on, maybe to a smaller school with a better opportunity to not only play, but start?

"At one point, I did consider transferring to Jacksonville State," said Evans. "They wanted me to come down there for a visit my sophomore year. And (former MSU football player) Rickey Wright was going there, too. But I decided, forget it, I'm here and I'm here to stay."

Why stay, especially when he wasn't guaranteed a scholarship or playing time in a game at that time in his Mississippi State career?

"I really don't know," said Evans. "It's more than just a love for the game. I guess mine is just that dream of running out of Scott Field's tunnel. I think that dream to me is a little bit more special than for a lot of these guys because some of them are from Georgia or other states. They probably knew about Mississippi State, but they didn't grown up with maroon running through their veins like I did. And I've told (MSU defensive line) Coach Haley this: Just to be able to run out of the tunnel at Scott Field under the lights is just so special to me. It will always be something that I know I did and never quit on."

Has it all been worth it?

"Right now, I will say yes, but when I turn 35 and I'm in a wheel chair I may say something differently," said Evans with a laugh. "Playing four years of Division-I football is very hard on your body, more than most people understand."

If he could do it all over again, would he turn down the scholarship offers he received out of high school to once again walk-on at Mississippi State?

"I would turn down any of the scholarship offers that I had to do this again," said Evans. "There is no doubt in my mind that I would."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by email at swindoll@genespage.com.

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