Monday, July 19, 2010

UK’s Evans Appreciates Opportunties

Kentucky senior defensive end DeQuin Evans readily admits he grew up in a dangerous housing project in Compton, Calif., and knows he’s lucky that football gave him a chance to better his life.

“When you come from where I did, you learn to appreciate everything you have or get,” said Evans, who led UK in quarterback sacks with six and tackles for loss with 12.5 last year in his first season after transferring from Los Angeles’ Harbor College.

He enjoys 5:30 a.m. workouts because he knows it will make him better and enable him to be the team leader that coach Joker Phillips wants. However, he also is motivated by his past.

His mother raised him and three younger sisters. His grandfather, Tavita Maefau, was his biggest fan and inspiration but he died when Evans was only 12 years old.

“Everything that people see on TV that happens in Compton or thinks happens in the projects there, it probably does happen,” Evans, who led UK with 12.5 tackles for loss and six quarterback sacks last year, said. “I’ve got friends in wheelchairs now and friends who’ve been shot and didn’t even gang-bang. You can just be in the wrong place at the wrong time and get shot.”

Here are insights Evans shared about his life, his football career and his future:

Question: What was your life like growing up and what role, if any, did sports play in your life?
Evans: “When I was a young kid, my mother got me into flag football. Growing up in the neighborhood I did in Compton, Calif., it was a tough neighborhood. She always tried to get me involved in sports to keep me away from all the trouble and all the wrong stuff going on and try to keep me around positive friends and people she knew from church more than people staying in my apartment complex.

“I always looked up to my cousin, Hershel Dennis. He played running back at USC and was magnificent football player. I always wanted to get the hype that he got. Everybody always couldn’t wait until my cousin came around and he always was having fun. I used to see him on TV. That is what pulled me into football and had me thinking I could do it.”

Question: Was it easy to listen to your mother at those times?
Evans: “There was so much temptation, so it was hard. If you make the wrong decision, you end up in the wrong place. If you make the right decision, you end up in the right place. But sometimes it is harder to make the right decision and is easier to make the wrong decision. A lot of the times I just listened to my grandfather and buckled down and went to practice.

“One thing that was different about me was that I never played high school football. I fell out of sports and it just wasn’t for me. I lost my grandfather and it was hard for me. He was my father. I am not in good contact with my real father, so it put me through a lot. I was depressed emotionally about right when I started high school. He was my right-hand man. He was my No. 1 fan. He would be at all my flag football games and take me out to eat after all of them. He let me know how proud of me he was all the time.

“Every time I was on the football field, I was trying to please him and my mom. That is who I felt like I was playing for and felt like they were the only two in stands watching me. It was hard on me not having him there. I fell out of football and started hanging around the wrong crowd of people. Football was not in my repertoire any more.

“I think I would have played (in high school) if he had not died. With him being the father-figure in my life and him pushing me, it would have been different. It’s hard for a woman to raise a man, especially a teen-ager growing up in the neighborhood I grew up in. He played a huge role in my life and when he was gone, I didn’t feel like I had anybody that knew where I was coming from. Anybody that has a father and has a good relationship with him would know what I am talking about. I miss him. That is the one of the things that had me away from football, but at the same time that is one of the things that brought me back to football.”

Question: What did you do between high school and when you started playing junior college football?
Evans: “I graduated high school and took a year off. I was just working to help my mom out with the rent and stuff like that. I was working at Albertson’s, a grocery store. It was not glamorous work at $6.25 per hour, California’s minimum wage. I was doing that for a while. Everybody always asked me, ‘You are big. You look like you play football. You don’t play tight end or nothing.’ I was like, ‘No, I don’t need to play.’

“But every day at work somebody asked me if I played sports since I was built athletically. I always worked out. I did my push-ups, did my backyard workouts and ran a little bit. Then I saw my cousin and he took me under his wing and told me I needed to play football. I hung around him a year or so and he showed me all the ropes. I would be around all his friends — Reggie Bush, LenDale White, Dominque Byrd — and even his friends who played asked me about playing. I was like maybe I should try.

“One of my friends played all four years in high school but he was out of football for two years. He was always a player. He told me he was up at Harbor College and I should come up and try. I went up there and talked to the football coach and he said to start workouts next month and get ready.

“I was staying with my cousin, so I moved back to my mom’s house. She had this huge hill about like from one side of Commonwealth Stadium to the top of the other side called Signal Hill. I would go out there. I was heavy — about 260 pounds — with bad weight. I would run that thing until I couldn’t feel my legs no more and was throwing up on the side or the road. I ran like that for a month and a half straight every day. I was hungry. I wanted to play football. I wanted to make my mother proud. I wanted to make my grandfather proud looking down on me. Most of all, I wanted to be a successful man and be a football player.

“I went into workouts and saw I was passing a lot of guys up who had been playing football their whole life. I was a little stronger than people on the team, but I didn’t have any technique. I was just playing on raw talent and getting off on the ball and running everywhere. I always had a high motor and I didn’t even know what a high motor was. I was just running.”

Question: What was life like at junior college?
Evans: “You get a free waiver based on your parents’ income. And you get financial aid. So I got the full benefit package. That kept a little money in my pocket. My uncle got a higher-paying job so he could help my mom out and I could quit Albertson’s. I told him what I wanted to do with my life and he respected that and felt like it was the best thing for me. He got a raise and let me stop working and go to school full-time and play football. I was leaving the house every day about 6 in the morning. The first class was at 7:30 and I was not getting home from practice until about 8:30 or 9 every night.

“My first season I made all-American. That was huge for me. I was making plays I didn’t know I could my make. My coach after I got done working out one day had Kansas, Oregon, Nevada and bunch of scouts waiting on me. He pulled me to the side and said, ‘I am real proud of you and I just want to let you know you are going to be a successful Division I player as long as you keep up your work.’ Right then it dawned on me. I didn’t know how good I was.

“These coaches thought I was this good. I thought I was just an average player. They sat down and told me how great I could be, so ever since then I took football in a different way. Once I heard I had an opportunity to be great and my junior college coach said I was one of the best players he had coached after one year, that was huge for me. That gave me self-confidence that I can’t even explain and showed me how hard work paid off.

“I feel like I was living proof of hard work. That’s all I did. I was not willing to be outworked by anybody on my team. The heart I had was the reason. I felt if it could get me past the junior college level to Division I, then I could bring people with me and get people working as hard as me, I would be helping the team but also doing something for myself. I am not even thinking about the NFL. I just want to be known as a great defensive end at the University of Kentucky.”

Question: Is it a big change having David Turner as your position coach instead of Rick Petri?
Evans: “I guess it fits the defensive front you are running. Last year we read everything. Now we are an attack defense. Coach Petri was a very great coach and taught a lot of fundamentals and had great technique. He always had an answer for any question you would lay out.

“Coach Turner is an aggressive coach. He don’t let us walk to nothing. He is in the weight room before us. ‘Attack your workouts son. Attack your workout, boy.’ That is all we know now. It is animal mode. Attack, attack, attack. Those coaches fit the front line perfect and the scheme we have going on.

“I love coach Turner’s style. I think it fits my game. He won’t sugar-coat nothing with you. If you are doing bad, he’s going to let you know. But if you are doing good, he is going to be the first person on the sideline to come give you a chest bump if you make a big play or something like that. That is huge for us. He is definitely a player’s coach. If you do something wrong, you know you are going to get chewed out something terrible for this. He is a big man on consequences. There is a big price to pay with him.”

Question: Are you really a criminal justice major?
Evans: “Actually I switched to social work, but I want to do the same thing as I was going to do in criminal justice. I want to work with kids who grew up without a father. Anywhere I go, I like working with kids. I like showing kids around.

“This goes back to my childhood. If I had a father figure in my life, it would not have took me this long to get to where I am now. I would not take it back for anything because I have learned off all my mistakes. I know it only makes me a stronger person. I feel like I have a hell of a story to tell. I feel like if you talk to kids, they would rather listen to a person who has been in their shoes and did what they did and made a change out of it. I want to give back to the community and help any kid in need. Throw a football with him or encourage him. Anybody who needs a male on male bond and I will help them out and show them the ropes a little bit.

“Coming from somebody who has been successful, that means more and you make the most out of it. It is hard for somebody to just study psychology and tell a kid who didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in his mouth how things are when the person who studied psychology and grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth doesn’t really know. It’s hard for the person to listen to this man. It’s a different perspective. They are thinking, ‘You didn’t grow up like me. Don’t sit here and tell me about my life.’ That’s reality.”

Question: How often do you get to see family back in California?
Evans: “The last time I saw my mother was after the (Music City) bowl game. I am saving money right now to get my mother down here for our Senior Day. That would be huge for her. I am trying to get her the whole package — hotel, rental car, some extra spending money to take her out to eat. That would be her first game and would be huge for her. She records all my games on TV, but I want to find a way to get her here for my Senior Day. She deserves that because without her, I wouldn’t be here and have a chance to be this successful.”

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