Sept. 6, 1999
by Bernie Merritt
It’s fourth down, the highly potent opposing offensive machine that has been known for putting up record numbers has stalled and this is the last chance to salvage a game that has turned into a real life nightmare. Imagine the head coach’s frustrations as he peers behind his shades to the opposite sideline where the entire team is congratulating the 5-8 cornerback who has almost single-handedly turned the game in favor of the underdog. He wonders how such a diminutive corner could possibly cover his over 6-2 wide receivers. What senior David Evans may lack in height, he makes up for in speed, intelligence and his unrelenting desire to play football.
It is this insatiable desire that has helped Evans reach his final season at Clemson. Beginning with his playing days at Abbeville High School, the road to football and college was an extremely tough one to say the least. Although he had great success as a standout defensive back and running back in his final year at Abbeville, the fact that he was just 5-8 seemed to be the only thing that mattered to most college coaches.
During his senior season, he was named to the All-Region team and was voted team MVP after playing both offense and defense. At the same time Evans led the basketball team in scoring for two years and was chosen the team’s top defensive player both seasons. However, the only stat that continued to really stick out was his height. It seemed that no matter what he did or how much success he enjoyed it was just not going to be good enough.
“A lot of coaches steered clear of me because of my size. I got a few offers from some smaller schools, but financially it just wasn’t realistic,” Evans said.
So with visions of playing college football seemingly dashed by the doubters and skeptics who thought he would never make it, Evans enrolled at Clemson just like any other student. “I just wanted to come here and do my thing and get my degree.”
In the fall of 1995, Evans went to class like everyone else. But things weren’t as normal as they appeared. Back home his father was by himself as he took care of Evans’ two sisters and his brother, while his mother and grandmother suffered through long illnesses.
Evans turned to his cousin Leomont Evans, a senior defensive back on the Clemson team, for support and guidance during this traumatic time. Leomont, now a member of the Washington Redskins, helped David stay focused and led him to a career on the Clemson football team. “Leomont really wanted me to be at Clemson with him and I thought it would be great to follow in his footsteps,” said Evans.
That spring, at the suggestion of his cousin, Evans started spring practice with about 20 other walk-on hopefuls. Despite a rigorous conditioning program Evans proved that he was there to stay. By the time spring practice had ended, Evans was one of just four walk-ons who had managed to survive the physical exhaustion that was demanded to make the team.
However, success was accompanied by tragedy as his grandmother died, and 34 days later his mother also succumbed to her lengthy illness. Evans was devastated as he tried to find a way to cope with his losses. Evans’ personal struggles soon spilled over into the classroom where his grade-point average fell dramatically. He now found himself ineligible for the team he had worked so hard to make.
Most people thought that Evans would almost certainly return home and give up his dreams of college and especially football. This time he would not return to his role as a normal everyday student. Evans was convinced that he could once again make the team if he just improved his grades. With the help of former defensive backs coach Charlie Harbison and of course his cousin, Evans showed that he belonged on the team. In the spring of 1997, he began the rebuilding process with more hard work and had several key plays during scrimmages. He continued to work to prove that his size would not take away from his speed, intelligence and desire.
On October 3, 1997, Evans became the first walk-on to start as a position player for former coach Tommy West. “I’ll never forget the first time I rubbed the rock and ran down the hill to make my first start,” commented Evans.
Evans was ready to prove to everyone that even though he was shorter than most corners he could still play football. With UTEP gunning right for him, Evans did more than hold his own as he had three tackles and two passes broken up. “They were coming right after me on just about every pass play. I would too if I was the offensive coordinator,” remembers Evans.
Evans relentless strong play led to two more starts in 1997. In the 11 games he played, Evans made 21 tackles and had three passes broken up. He had his best game versus Maryland when he was third on the team with nine tackles. He helped lead the Tiger defense as they held the Terps to just nine points.
Evans continued his hard work off the field as well, making the ACC Academic Honor Roll during the 1997-98 school year. On the field Evans endured through more training and hard work. He established himself with the second-best power index on the team and the fifth-best vertical jump with 33.5 inches.
Although he kept working, unfortunately the 1998 season did not turn out as expected. Evans played in every game, but only on special teams, where he tallied four tackles during the season. “I was disappointed but I kept working and tried to improve myself everyday,” Evans said.
This type of attitude is something that new defensive backs coach Jack Hines says the Tigers will need in 1999. “With the new game plan we have, we are going to need guys that will work hard to get it right,” Hines said.
Just like life, opponents have gone right after Evans thinking he would be an easy target. Just like life, the opponents have found out that Evans is a lot tougher than anticipated. Defensive coordinator Reggie Herring admires his strength both physically and mentally. “David makes up for his size with intelligence and heart. He has a lot of confidence in himself and it shows on the field,” said Herring.
Evans acknowledges that his road to college and football would not have even been possible if it were not for the help of his cousin. “Leomont has meant the world to me. There is no way I can repay him for everything he has done,” he said.
Life still continues to bring challenges for Evans. This spring he tore his ACL, which forced him to work even harder to be ready for the fall. “There are a lot of things I can’t do physically the way I did before, but I hope to be ready. Right now I just need to get stronger mentally,” said Evans.
Evans’ realizes that life will continue to come after him even after this football season. He hopes to perhaps join his cousin playing football at the next level or continue with his marketing degree, but right now he’s happy being the guy people tend to overlook. “I like being the underdog,” he said.
“I like going out and fighting and proving people wrong. I have done it before and will continue to do it in the future.”
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