This article appears in the October 2005 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
It's not unusual for Maurice Evans to spend a few minutes each day talking to college coaches who come through Christ the King looking to gain an edge in landing New York's prized recruit.
Evans, a senior defensive end who is rated the top football recruit in the state of New York and the No. 17 defensive lineman in the country by SchoolSports.com, enjoys the meetings but is in no hurry to commit to a program. After all, such acclaim is still new to him.
These days, Evans may be a 6-foot-3, 255-pounder with enough raw talent to overwhelm high school linemen and earn scholarship offers from some of the nation's top college programs, but uncertainty clouded the summer following his freshman year.
He had finished his first season of competitive football the previous fall playing for the Christ the King freshman team, but a new coaching staff was in place for summer workouts and Evans felt like he was lost in the shuffle.
Known as Mo to his teammates, Evans had enjoyed a successful freshman campaign as a running back and linebacker. Watching Evans, then a 6-foot-2, 220-pound 14-year-old, take on fellow freshmen was like watching a Hummer H2 run through a line of Mini Coopers. Still, he never felt particularly comfortable at either position.
Evans knew he preferred the challenge of stopping rather than being stopped, and first-year varsity coach Kevin Kelly was secretly considering giving him a chance at defensive end as a sophomore.
Kelly came to Christ the King from Villanova, where he was the defensive tackles coach, and knew size alone made Evans a candidate for a promotion to varsity. But with just one season of organized football under his belt, Kelly wondered if Evans had the maturity to make the leap.
Evans didn't know it, but Kelly was watching him that summer. The coach observed Evans' progression as he went through drills and lifted weights with his classmates. By the end of the summer, Kelly reached a decision. If Evans was up for it, he had a spot on the defensive line.
"I'm not going to bring someone up to varsity to be a part-time player," says Kelly, now in his third year with the Royals. "Players develop by playing every down, and I thought Maurice was capable of doing that at the varsity level. He showed the maturity and growth I needed to see, so I was ready to take the chance."
As Evans boarded the train each morning that summer to begin his 30-minute, three-train journey from his home in Brooklyn to Queens-based Christ the King, the last thing on his mind was lining up for the varsity team in the fall.
So when he walked by Kelly's office one morning in early August and the coach shouted for him to step inside, Evans wasn't expecting to walk out as the only sophomore on varsity. Evans hadn't said more than a dozen words to his coach before that. And he'd certainly never been singled out.
But that's exactly what happened.
"I was just happy someone was talking to me," says Evans, who went on to record 60 tackles and eight sacks as a sophomore. "Happy that I was being acknowledged."
Evans steadily improved throughout the first half of his sophomore season as the Royals climbed into contention for the Catholic High School Football League Class AA title. By the end of the season, the improvement came more rapidly.
In Christ the King's homecoming win over Kellenberg, Evans registered a pair of sacks and seven tackles. He was beginning to feel he belonged.
The transformation from playing over his head to playing with confidence was complete in a CHSFL semifinal win over St. John the Baptist. The Cougars had dispatched Christ the King earlier in the season, but two more sacks and a double-digit tackle total from Evans made the rematch a different story.
"That was the first game I felt like I wasn't just another player," says Evans, who has since transformed into Christ the King's best football recruit since Miami Dolphins cornerback Will Poole in 1999. "I remember feeling like I could make a difference."
The Royals avenged another loss the next week — this time against Holy Cross — to conclude Evans' sophomore season with a CHSFL Class AA championship.
In any other year, his focus in late November would have been basketball. But that November he couldn't help but think his brother, Michael, had been right. Maybe his future — as his brother suggested before high school began — was in football.
Evans suited up for Christ the King's hoop team that winter, but it turned out to be his last season playing for the storied basketball program.
"I understood pretty quickly where my bread and butter was," he says.
With just two years of football to his credit, Evans knew he had plenty to learn before his junior season, which would ultimately determine exactly how high he'd climb up the recruiting ladder.
After noticing a similarity in stance and explosion off the line with Carolina Panthers lineman Julius Peppers, Evans began studying tape of the Pro Bowler. He also had something else in common with Peppers — a non-stop motor. The kind of relentless passion that had Evans pushing offensive linemen three steps into the backfield before spinning off and tearing a running back to the ground or chasing a quarterback out of bounds.
And as Evans' individual technique was beginning to flourish, his football IQ was soaring.
"I started to understand the game," Evans says. "I stopped looking only at my position and my responsibilities and began to look at the players around me to see what they were supposed to be doing so I could play off that."
He picked up where he left off as a sophomore, recording 72 tackles and 11 sacks last season. But the team's success wasn't the same. The Royals had moved up to Class AAA and struggled at the CHSFL's top level, going 1-7 and giving the soft-spoken Evans a chance to hone his leadership skills.
"When things start going bad, they know not to expect a rah-rah speech from him," Kelly says. "But they see him working hard, leading by example. Everyone in his class looks up to him because they know what he's done and where he's going."
But exactly where he's going won't be known for a while. Evans says he won't choose a college until after this season.
He has more than 20 offers on the table, ranging from Virginia, the first school to offer a scholarship, to USC, which offered out of the blue this past summer. No matter where he ends up, there's no telling what he'll be capable of at the next level if he continues to improve at such a rapid rate.
For now, though, he simply plans to keep the conversations going. After all, a couple years ago he was just happy someone was talking to him.