In his first game as an FBS quarterback, Jerod Evans threw four touchdowns, no picks and racked up 267 yards of offense. It was, by all accounts, a successful debut.
Then Evans watched the film.
"Some good," he said, "some bad."
The good is fine. He's proud of it. It earned him another start.
The bad is his focus though. That’s where Evans' motivation lies. He doesn't wallow in it. It doesn't define him. But it sure as heck drives him.
Evans is a natural competitor. That's what comes from growing up in a big family -- six brothers, two sisters — when all the typical fun and games around the house come with a tinge of competition. So when he watches the film, it's hard for him not to find fault. His standard is perfection, and he doesn't see that as too high a bar to exceed.
"I know I shouldn't make those mistakes because I know I'm better than that," Evans said.
Or perhaps the problem is that, for all the platitudes Evans has received -- and there are many -- he's never been on particularly solid ground at the college level.
In high school, Evans played in a run-first system that hardly showcased his big arm. It earned him only a smattering of interest from FBS schools, so he ended up at Air Force. A knee injury early on put him behind the 8-ball, and he decided to transfer. He watched film of Trinity Valley Community College with his father, and they decided it was a good fit. The only problem was Evans would be on a roster with three other QBs who ended up signing Division I scholarships, too.
"We didn't think we'd get anything out of him, but he had a big arm," said Brad Smiley, Evans' head coach at Trinity Valley. "We thought we'd let him rehab with us and see what developed."
Evans rehabbed he knee quickly, though, so when the starting QB went down with an injury in the playoffs that year, Evans stepped in without batting an eye. Actually, he was pretty close to perfect, tossing a school record six touchdowns in the win.
Still, when Smiley's starter was healthy, he kept his job. Evans took over the following season but dealt with injuries then, too. In all, Evans started just 10 games in two years at Trinity Valley, yet he holds the conference record for touchdown throws -- a conference that was once home to Cam Newton.
Smiley used to coach at Tulane when a trio of star QBs were sent to the NFL. Patrick Ramsey, Shaun King and J.P. Losman all had arms big enough to be drafted in the first or second round.
"The way [Evans] spins it," Smiley said, "he's in that class."
It was certainly enough to earn the attention of Justin Fuente, who was planning for the imminent departure of his own NFL prodigy, Paxton Lynch, at Memphis. Fuente had built a good rapport with Evans, and when he was hired as Virginia Tech's new coach in December, the QB followed.
As much as Evans seemed the perfect fit at Virginia Tech -- an offense with skill-position talent but no established quarterback -- Fuente was reluctant to offer too much praise. There was a four-way battle during spring practice. While Evans still appeared to be at the top of the depth chart, it wasn't until just days before the opener that Fuente officially named him the starter. Even then, the title came with strings attached. Fuente suggested the job was Evans' only so long as his performance dictated it. His leash, so to speak, would be short.
"I don't feel pressure, but I don't feel like I have a margin for error," Evans said. "But I don't want a margin for error."
That's sort of the point. Whether Fuente has slow played the hype for his emerging star QB or genuinely wants to keep the competition going day to day doesn't really matter because Evans isn't interested in feeling good about where he's at. He's searching the game tape not for the big throws he made, but for the ones he didn't.
"I just make sure that I'm doing the little things right," Evans said. "The little things turn into big things, and I'm always trying to perfect my craft."