NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Aladdin is much faster than you, but maybe one day you'll catch him. That thought ran through Tennessee Titans linebacker Rashaan Evans' head day after day, week after week, year after year while growing up on his family's ranch in the deep country woods of Auburn, Alabama.
The Evans brothers essentially had a farm lifestyle, living on 5 acres of open land with unfenced woods covering much more ground. They raised chickens, ducks, rabbits, birds, dogs, cats, other foreign animals and even hosted coyotes that would sometimes kill the chickens. It was here that Evans fell in love with nature. He has a special affinity for horses that began when he and his brother, Alex, participated in equestrian events as youngsters.
But chasing a horse is unusual. Alex, a year-and-a-half younger than Rashaan, is the animal aficionado of the family. He brought the idea to Rashaan when the two were in fourth and fifth grade, respectively. Rashaan looked at him like he had two heads. Alex saw it as fun and exercise. He knew the family's handful of Arabian horses, known for endurance, ran up to 30-35 miles per hour.
"That sounded dangerous: to run behind a horse? A horse is a powerful animal. It could kill you. I thought he was crazy," Rashaan said. "But I tried it one day. Everything went good. We kept doing it. I enjoyed it. I actually got a little faster."
Alex, the only one of the two to catch a horse, added: "When you're having fun, you don't realize it but it's great conditioning and speed training. We ran with them for about 45 minutes every day from grade school through high school. If you can imagine running full speed for that long, you get a good bit of workout in."
Eleven years later, Evans points to his horse-chasing and country upbringing as key reasons why he was the Titans' first-round selection and hand-picked future leader of the defense. He says his unique hobby and lifestyle made him faster and tougher. His experiences growing up made him ready for everything the NFL will throw at him.
"We're not going to ask you to chase any horses," Titans general manager Jon Robinson joked to the former Alabama linebacker one day after drafting him.
Robinson and Titans coach Mike Vrabel visited Alabama's pro day in March to scout Evans and several other Alabama prospects. In a group of alpha males, former five-star high school recruits and future NFL stars, Evans clearly stood out.
"You could see his leadership in the room, the command that he had in that room," Robinson said. "He kind of had an old-soul feel about him."
The old-soul reference made Evans laugh. It isn't new. He's heard it his whole life, whether in reference to his determined approach to football or jokes about him being a bald 21-year-old man. He's just glad Robinson loves him for who he is.
"I am an old soul, that describes me well. A lot of people say I'm ahead of the curve in my generation. That's how I was raised up in the country," Evans said. "My mom was constantly harping on making sure you do the right thing, make sure you're respectful, make sure you clean up the bed. She believed that translated in life. It paid off."
Vrabel believes Evans can become one of the Titans' leaders, even as a rookie. Robinson drafted Evans to be a core piece of a championship team. There is a long list of star Alabama linebackers who have set a standard of physicality and NFL success. Expectations are huge for this country kid who loved to chase horses, but he appears unfazed.
"I must accept that challenge. The head of the organization is looking at me to be the guy to tell everybody else what they have to do. It's a big responsibility because you have to be doing right, too," said Evans. "You have to earn your teammates' trust. You have to live a certain standard. It's not for everybody. But I embrace it."
It won't be the first time Evans is presented with a big challenge at the start of a new journey. Four years ago, Evans chose to attend college at Alabama, snubbing Auburn on signing day, which shocked his community and left his family's business threatened and created plenty of trouble for them.
All I did was commit to a university to get my education and pursue my dreams but a whole city gone try and treat me like I'm satan #Really— Rashaan Evans (@616evans4) February 11, 2014
Going to Auburn was an Evans expectation. His father, Alan, was a star running back at Auburn. His mom, Chenavis, received four degrees from Auburn, including her doctorate. His older sister was an Auburn cheerleader. His uncle is a vice president at Auburn. His cousins all went to Auburn.
"We just have an Auburn family. We went to Auburn High. We lived in Auburn our whole lives," said Alex, who chose to follow his brother and run track at Alabama. "To switch from Auburn to Alabama was a big shocker to the community and our family. We made the best of it. The cream always rises to the top."
Rashaan didn't take the easy way. He picked what was best for him -- Alabama. He took the process slow, went through every possible outcome and accepted all the negative reaction in stride. He says how he handled that difficult situation is one of the proudest moments of his life.
"Everything ain't fruit and berries. You gotta work for everything you get," Evans said. "You're going to have to make some big-man decisions, life-changing decisions. That was one of my first ones. I felt like, 'I'm a man now.'"
Now he's the newest, important man in Tennessee. So important that he'll be chasing quarterbacks and running backs, not horses, now.