- Sam Khan Jr., ESPN Staff Writer
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Spend enough time around him, and it's easy to discover that Mike Evans is a man of few words.
Watch him hold court during an interview session with the press. The answers are direct and often short. Evans prefers to let his actions do the talking.
This season, those actions spoke loud and clear as the Texas A&M redshirt sophomore emerged as one of college football's best receivers. There were times when you could make a case for a Heisman Trophy candidate on the Texas A&M roster who was not named Johnny Manziel. Evans was that good for a stretch.
In two of A&M's biggest games, Evans had his biggest performances. Alabama had no answer for him and he hauled in seven passes for 279 yards -- including a 95-yard touchdown -- as a result. Auburn didn't do any better. Evans bettered his receiving totals against the eventual SEC champions, catching 11 balls for 287 yards and four touchdowns.
Even with a finish that wasn't as strong statistically as he'd probably prefer, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound force still put together a record-setting season with 65 catches, 1,322 yards and 12 touchdowns. Evans' yardage total is a Texas A&M single-season record.
During spring practice in April, Evans said he hoped he could do something special in 2013. When asked what would constitute special, he answered with one word.
"He's got exceptional ability because of his size," Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin told reporters on Monday. "I think, as I've said before, the thing that separates him from a lot of people is the fact that he will play as hard without the ball as he plays with the ball, as a blocker, doing things that creates an attitude on the perimeter that we need. He's going to continue to get better."
Whether he gets better this fall in College Station, Texas, or in one of 32 NFL cities will be determined in a matter of time. When the No. 21 Aggies (8-4) meet No. 24 Duke (10-3) in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl tonight, it could be Evans' final game in maroon and white. Like Manziel, Evans is draft-eligible and has until Jan. 15 to decide whether he'll declare for early entry into the 2014 NFL draft.
To this point, Evans is not indicating which way he is leaning. If he chooses to leave school and go pro, he leaves behind a spectacular two-year playing career that includes one of college football's more compelling journeys to the top.
As has been well-documented, Evans didn't come out of high school as a big-time football recruit. Back at Galveston (Texas) Ball High, he was known more for his hardwood exploits than those on the gridiron. He played only one season of varsity football, and that came as a senior. He spent the majority of his high school athletic career starting for Ball High's basketball team.
His decision to go for football as a high school senior was life-changing. A handful of colleges came calling, looking past Evans' raw skill set and focusing on what he did bring to the table: size, speed and work ethic.
"Before he even put any pads on, we were in offseason and basketball season was over with and he came over to the fieldhouse and we got him suited out and it just so happened that we were [speed] testing during that time," said David Suggs, who was Ball's head football coach at the time. "He came out and ran two 4.5 [second 40-yard dashes]."
Evans eventually chose Texas A&M, and the rest is history. He redshirted his first season, and while practicing on the scout team in 2011, he built quite the rapport with the scout-team quarterback at the time, a spry, athletic young man from the Hill Country named Manziel.
That chemistry became stronger as the two entered their redshirt freshman seasons, as both won starting jobs at their respective positions. En route to becoming college football's first freshman Heisman Trophy winner, Manziel made Evans his go-to receiver (or as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital calls Evans, Manziel's "panic guy").
As a result, Evans enjoyed two 1,000-yard receiving seasons. He has 147 career catches for 2,427 yards and 17 touchdowns in his two-year career. And he's done it without saying much.
"He doesn't talk a whole lot," receivers coach David Beaty said. "I'll tell you this: When he gets fired up, he gets fired up. He's a tough kid, and he demands a lot from people around him. He will not stand for people [who] are not success people. If you're a mediocre guy, he's not a fan. You have to be a high-achieving guy."
Beaty called Evans "humble" and "coachable."
"I'll tell you what, you won't find a more humble guy," Beaty said. "And he allows me to coach him, and sometimes that doesn't happen. Sometimes guys push [back]. But Mike's one of those guys that will come up to me, just out of the blue, randomly and say 'Coach, I need you to stay on me. I need to get better than what I am today' and that's refreshing."
1hDavid M. Hale