He was giddy and eager, like a young boy on Christmas Eve waiting for presents. Evans’ present was coming in the morning.
After two years without football, Evans, who suffered a torn ACL in each of his knees, was returning to the field the next day.
It was like he never left.
“The past few days of practice, I’ve just been rolling guys off the ball.” He said. “It feels natural again like I’m back in the old days.”
It took eight months to recover from his first ACL tear, in his right knee, and another year after to rehab from his left ACL tear, but Evans walked into the Oklahoma Sooners team meeting room Monday with almost no limp. He still sits out of the most intense drills, but he is making an immediate impact on the team in just the first couple days of practice.
He drove a player 20 yards off the ball on the first day.
“It was my first play,” Evans said. “I was all amp'd up.”
He pancaked another the second day of camp.
“It had been building up,” he chuckled. “It felt good to be back out here.”
Evans, who believes he has a realistic chance of regaining his starting position, wouldn’t disclose his victims, though.
“He could have no legs, and he’s still going to try to maul someone,” said center Ty Darlington, who met Evans during his official visit in high school. “That’s his personality. That’s the type of physicality and toughness that he brings to us up front. He’s going to finish guys, and he’s going to be nasty.”
Interior lineman Adam Shead also has returned to practice after back surgery. While working to get back in shape over the summer, Shead said he constantly relied on Evans for transportation.
The two have worked together, and Shead said that has helped him get back into playing shape.
“It definitely helps to see that I’m not the only guy going through this,” said Shead, who added that it was strange to play without back pain. “Everybody goes through things. You can’t be down on yourself. You have to keep moving.”
Evans and Shead have settled back in to a deep offensive line that has up to 10 players who could see action this season – even without injury. It wasn’t always a guarantee that Evans would come back to the Sooners.
Evans played as a true freshman and started 25 games in the next two combined seasons. He was named to the All-Big 12 team after his junior season, but he spent two months after his second knee injury deciding if he wanted to come back to football at all.
“Do I want to play? Am I going to stay healthy?” he asked himself then. “I had to go through all the steps to fully get my mind ready.”
He consulted his family. He thought about his teammates. Evans took advice from his new wife, Natasha, who had five surgeries during her career as an All-American gymnast at Oklahoma.
“She kept on telling me, “You do not want to quit because you won’t like the after effects,’” said Evans, who was married on June 28. “I had to listen to her. She’s experienced in this. She said, ‘You want to go and see how it feels to you. If it doesn’t feel right, it’s your decision.’”
Right now, Evans says he’s 100 percent, although his injuries require daily monitoring and after-practice ice packs. He sat out of the Oklahoma Drill on Monday but said it was great just being out and watching the guys – especially with his pads on instead of in more of a coach’s attire.
During the past two years, Evans would watch practice all the time. Film sessions would be up to two hours, daily. Evans, who is working on a Masters in Leadership Studies after receiving his degree in Human Relations, was doing everything he could to make sure he could be ready. He said it gave him a little more perspective on the game.
“It actually helped me more than what I thought,” he said. “… I can see the blitzes coming.”
And he instructs his younger teammates – like Darlington, who has gone from freshman to junior while Evans has remained a senior.
Thus, his new nickname: Grandpa Evans. He seems to like it. Ultimately, it fits.
“He’s a veteran presence,” Darlington said. “He plays hard. He plays physical. He’s what we’re about. It’s good to have him back.”