Needless to say, Tyler Evans’ football plans for 2012 have drastically changed.
But, in a weird way, it just might be for the better.
The former Strafford High School star and three-year starter for the Oklahoma Sooners’ offensive line is out for the upcoming season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee in the Sooners’ opening weekend of fall practice earlier this month when he stepped on the heel of a teammate during routine drills.
Instead of the 6-foot-5, 305-pounder manning his right guard position as a senior on an OU team that once again is a consensus Top Five pick in preseason national polls and the Big 12 Conference favorite, one that will light up scoreboards with a Landry Jones-quarterbacked attack, Evans will spend his fall having surgery early next month and then mentoring his replacements up front from the sidelines while undergoing an estimated six months of rehab.
What’s the positive in all this, you might ask?
Evans is considered a good solid, NFL prospect, based on his size, experience and pedigree as what will be a four-year regular for one of college football’s traditionally excellent programs. And he still will be after he comes back 100 percent next season and completes his college career with a medical redshirt season in 2013. Draft classes and the quantity and quality of prospects available by positions fluctuates wildly by the year … so who’s to say the 2014 NFL Draft might not be a better time for Evans to come out as a guard prospect than next spring’s selection? (Optimum Scouting had Evans rated the No. 20 guard prospect for 2013 before the injury; NFL Draft take had him at No. 8).
He’s also trying to wrap up a degree in Human Relations at OU, with an original target date of next May for graduation, preparing himself for life after football. We’ve all heard stories about players who spend so much time, effort and energy in the semester after their final college campaigns getting ready for the NFL combine, Pro Day workouts and preparing their bodies and minds in general for the meat market known as Draft Day … and of these same players having one heck of a time fitting in a semester’s worth of classes at the same time.
One or the other of two very critical, life-changing areas – current pro career vs. degree and long-term career - usually suffers.
“I think things do sometimes (happen for a reason),” he says. “I was looking at my (academic) schedule, and because I had plans of going to the NFL next spring, and would have been finishing my work toward a May graduation next spring at the same time … this could work out to be a good thing, because now I will be able to push my graduation back to December (2013) instead of May.”
As it is, Evans now can focus next spring on getting back to full health, preparing for Spring Drills with the Sooners and keep his academic progress on track while taking a lighter load to finish up that degree in the Fall … and then be free and clear to do all those NFL-related tasks in the Spring of 2014 as he attempts to become the first Springfield-area prep product/pro draftee since former Catholic offensive line star Seth Wand was a third-round choice out of Northwest Missouri State in 2003.
Evans has already shown the pros his ability to adapt his body to whatever size is needed. He swelled up to 330 pounds as a sophomore before dropping more than 20 pounds over the past two years to make himself more nimble for an OU attack that ranked No. 5 nationally in both passing yards and total offense in 2011.
“Last year, our offense wasn’t that quick, but this year our tempo is going to be a lot faster, so I was wanting to get a lot leaner and faster,” said Evans, who has helped the Sooners to a 30-10 record and three bowl games in his three seasons.
“The biggest thing with Tyler is he’s got the size … he’s big, strong kid,” says James Patton, the veteran OU offensive line coach of the former SHS Indians four-year star with that loveable, “aw, shucks” kind of personality.
“We’ve had a pretty good tradition of getting our guys opportunities at the next level, and I think Tyler will definitely have a shot. The thing about him that some other guys sometimes don’t have is the work ethic and the right attitude, and he’s got it. He’s the kind of guy that everyone loves to have.”
And OU now gets to have Evans around for five years, a year wiser, hungry to prove his comeback is legit and motivated once again to end his OU career the right way … which, for all parties involved, just might wind up being a good thing.
Follow Scott Puryear, a former Springfield News-Leader columnist, on Twitter at @scottpuryear.