Mike Evans only played for his father, the late Bob “Snake” Evans, through his sophomore year at Science Hill, but he essentially played for him the next six years while seeking ball-carriers for the Hilltoppers and Memphis State Tigers.
Coach Evans, who went 67-30-2 overall at Science Hill and 6-4 against Dobyns-Bennett, concluded his 10-year run as head coach in the fall of 1976. Mike started at linebacker that season.
“Mike loved football and he handled the situation with his dad being the coach great,” says then-offensive coordinator Keith Lyle. “I mean it was never any kind of real conflict or anything. He always went about his business. Very intelligent, called the defenses. He was a committed football player and actually made his self, I guess you’d say, into a college player through his work and offseasons.”
Evans had one of his better games against Sullivan Central.
“You didn’t have Sullivan South back then, and Sullivan Central was usually a good team,” Evans said. “I remember Coach (Tommy) Hundley telling me when the college coaches would call, that was the game film he’d send them.”
Hundley and defensive coordinator Bob May implemented an unconventional defense.
“We ran that split defense, which was sort of different,” Evans said. “It sort of helped me when I got to college, because we ran that Junkyard Dog defense – the Split 60, the Erk Russell defense. For the inside linebackers, it’s a hard defense to run, because guys got angles on you. … And if you didn’t have good tackles in front of you, you were in trouble, because they had to tie some people up.”
Robert Dennis, a 6-foot-3, 245-pounder, was an excellent interior defensive lineman when he was at his best.
“He was a heck of an athlete and a big strong guy,” Evans said. “Nobody could block him. He tied up a few people in front of me.”
Evans started on defense and offense as an upperclassman.
“I was a running back until high school,” said Evans, who also was a district champion wrestler and lettered in track. “Then I went from fullback to pulling guard. I was probably 195 pounds.”
He was voted Science Hill’s most valuable lineman as a junior and senior. But he did have good speed.
“The best time I ever ran was a 4.59 on an electronic clock at the start of camp my junior year,” Evans said. “Nowadays, you’re just another guy running a 4.6. Everyone I hear now is running 4.5s and 4.4s and even some 4.3s.”
Evans went against guys like Herschel Walker in college, and his teammates included future NFL players Derrick Burroughs and Donnie Elder. But he rarely saw the combination of speed and power possessed by Science Hill teammate Van Williams, who also played in the NFL.
“I worked out with him during the summers in college,” Evans said. “Van Williams might be the best athlete I’ve ever been around. … You run across guys like Van once in a lifetime. …
“I played with several guys that played in the pros and I played against a lot of guys that played in the pros, and I ran across somebody that knew Van up there (in the NFL), and they told me his nickname was ‘The Hulk.’ I said ‘Yeah, I can see that.’”
Evans had strong performances for Memphis. He played against Tennessee twice. At the Liberty Bowl in 1980, he intercepted a Steve Alatorre pass in the second quarter and returned it some 30 yards to set up a go-ahead score.
“Alatorre was throwing a curl route to Willie Gault and I just sort of came across underneath in front of him and picked it off and ran it up the sideline and cut it back,” Evans said. “Looking at the film, if I’d just kept going, there was another guy coming up behind me that would’ve blocked for me, because Alatorre was the only person left to tackle me and I had blocker coming up behind me. I didn’t see him, so I sort of cut it back and Alatorre cut my legs out from under to take me down about the 35-yard line. And then the next play we ran a trap to the fullback (Anthony Parker) and scored.”
Memphis played many SEC schools, including Ole Miss. The Rebels had Science Hill alum Billy Wise at tight end. Wise was a senior when the 17th-ranked Rebels beat Memphis in Oxford in 1980.
Emory Hale, who coached Steve Spurrier at Science Hill, won three state titles at Oak Ridge and was head coach at Austin Peay, was impressed with Evans’ career.
“As a linebacker, Mike was a great high school player and a good college player,” Hale said. “Not only was Mike a good athlete and physically strong, but he was a smart player.”
Cregg Moss, who saw Evans play at Virginia Tech, was Evans’ position coach with the Hilltoppers.
“If you said, ‘Check the dive hole and then slide out and take the quarterback on an option,’ that’s exactly what Mike was gonna do,” Moss said. “If you said ‘Play it with your inside shoulder and slide to the outside,’ that’s what he would do. He’d check the dive and he’d tackle it or not tackle it, and he’d go on to the quarterback and then he could run to the pitch. He was just technically sound. And of course, he was a strong kid and he was a good runner. Mike could make a good coach out of you.”
Mike Voitlein coached Science Hill linebackers in three decades, and said Evans was “one of my favorites.” Evans was a first team All-State linebacker, Upper East Tennessee Defensive Player of the Year and Science Hill’s Athlete of the Year as a senior.
He lettered four years at Memphis State and was honorable mention All-Metro Conference as a junior. He was hampered much of his senior season with a torn rotator cuff he suffered against Mississippi State in the second game of the year.
“We didn’t know it at the time,” he said. “I eventually had surgery on it. I was tackling a guy, trying to pull him down, and I felt my shoulder pop. I kept telling the trainers there was something wrong. They did an X-ray, but that’s not going to show up on an X-ray.”
Evans played through the pain. Such toughness didn’t come by accident in his father’s home.
“If he said be home at 12 o’clock, it didn’t mean 12:01,” Evans said. “You didn’t want to walk through the door at 12:01. That was good discipline to grow up under. It paid off.”
It wasn’t all work in the Evans household. Mike cherishes memories of coaches coming over to watch football.
“It was a New Year’s Day tradition – everybody would show up at our house,” Evans said. “I remember sitting around listening to all of them talk football all day long. It was pretty awesome.”
Hale was often there for bowl games. It was fitting that Snake ended up watching Mike play college ball.
“Snake-eye saw him play all the time in college,” Hale said. “The most fun they might’ve ever had was going to New Orleans to watch him (play Tulane). I know Mike’s father was very proud of him.”