Kentucky senior defensive end DeQuin Evans counts his blessings every day.
He’s thankful for having made it out alive of one of the most dangerous housing projects in Compton, Calif.
He’s thankful that he got a chance to play football in the first place. Remarkably, this will be only his fourth full season of organized football.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Kentucky senior defensive end DeQuin Evans has his best football in front of him, according to his coach.Most of all, he’s thankful he gets one last shot to continue paying back Kentucky for believing in him enough a year and a half ago to give him a scholarship out of Los Angeles’ Harbor College.
It all flashed before his eyes, though, early during spring practice this year. He rolled his knee up in practice, and it didn’t look pretty at the time.
As it turned out, it was only a mild sprain, and Evans was back in a few days.
“I learned a long time ago to appreciate everything I have,” Evans said. “I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to this senior season.”
Evans led the Wildcats in sacks (6) and tackles for loss (12.5) last season. Still raw as a football player, he got by on sheer athletic ability and heart much of the time.
He has no doubt that he’ll be a more complete football player in 2010.
“I’ve never worked this hard in my life,” Evans said. “I’m hoping and praying all my ability shows on Saturdays, all the small technical stuff I’ve been working on and all this film I’ve been watching.
“I also have to be a leader for this team, which will lead me to being a better player. That’s what keeps me coming in at 5:30 in the morning, keeping my inner drive going every day and never being satisfied with nothing.”
The 6-3, 257-pound Evans is one of the better stories in the SEC.
He was raised by a single mother, along with three younger sisters, in the Park Village projects in Compton. His grandfather, Tavita Maefau, did his best to keep Evans in sports as a youngster, but Maefau died when Evans was only 12.
“That’s a big reason I never got into football when I was a kid. He kept me involved, but I didn’t even play high school ball,” Evans said. “In my world, you were just trying to make it day by day. It was tough. Everything that people see on TV that happens in Compton ... that stuff is for real.
“I’ve got a lot of friends who are in wheelchairs now and friends who’ve been shot and didn’t even gang-bang or anything. A lot of times, they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I had a friend going to Nevada on full basketball ride, and he got shot one night after a game and was paralyzed from the waist down.”
Evans acquired a taste for football through his cousin, Hershel Dennis, who played running back at USC.
“He took me under his wing and said to come live with him when he was living off campus at USC, and I would be around LenDale White, Reggie Bush and Dominique Byrd," Evans said. "I was like, ‘This is tight,’ and they all wanted to know why I didn’t play football.”
Evans started wondering the same thing himself and wound up hooking up with a buddy of his who was playing junior college ball at Harbor College.
“I went and met the coach, and he told me he would love to have me on the team, that I just had to be ready to put in the work,” Evans recalled. “So I moved back in with my mom, who was living in Long Beach then, and she had this huge hill in the back of her house. I used to always see those clips of Walter Payton running those hills on ESPN Classic.
“I lost about 20 pounds running that hill, did my pushups and was hungry to get a chance. Anything that would keep me busy and out of trouble, that’s what I wanted to do. I went out there for the first practices and was coming in first in all the sprints.
“It was like a snowball going downhill after that. The game just grew on me.”
First-year Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said Evans’ best football is clearly in front of him.
“The light was starting to come on at the end of the year last year when he was playing his best football,” Phillips said. “He was playing really well at the first part of this spring when he hurt himself and missed some practices.
“We put a lot on him as far as being a leader. We have some leaders on offense in Randall Cobb, Mike Hartline, Stuart Hines, Derrick Locke. The thing we have to start doing his giving more people leadership roles on defense, and DeQuin is one of those guys. He’s always been a leader in the way he plays, because he’s a high-motor guy. Now, he’s got to be a leader with how he speaks when he’s in front of our team and off the field.
"He’s taken ownership with that, and we think this will be a huge year for him.”