Negativity breeds negativity. Few people understand this statement more than Jerod Evans.
The negativity Evans has endured comes from many angles. He's faced numerous doubters about his ability, severe injuries and watched his own family member fight through agonizing pain. Evans has carried on through this negativity in hopes of reaching the pinnacle of his aspirations — the National Football League.
Evans’ declaration for the 2017 NFL Draft, which he announced on Jan. 2 of that year, brought on more hate than any regular person should ever encounter.
Some who criticized Evans were respectful and wished him the best. Many others, however, weren’t so respectful. That negativity haunted Evans for a long time.
“I never thought Virginia Tech fans would do that to me,” Evans said. “It hurt me a lot that… I thought they would be happy for me actually, but I was in for a rude awakening. But that was a wake-up call for me in general, because it showed me not to take everything to heart.”
The negativity stayed with Evans as he tried to navigate the regular taunting on social media, which only persisted after Evans went undrafted. Evans closed people off and became distant, including with those he relied on.
“I kind of cut everybody off because I didn’t know how to deal with the backlash that I was receiving when I decided to declare,” Evans said. “I wish I had never done that. Only time will mend a lot of those relationships.”
Handling negativity is something that Evans has been doing for his entire football career. Evans, who only had four offers to play quarterback out of Mansfield High School in Texas, made the brave decision to enroll at the Air Force Academy in 2013. In his first season while playing in a game for Air Force’s prep team, Evans tore his ACL. Evans finished the first half with that torn ACL and didn’t find out the full extent of his injury until the next day.
“I laughed at (the trainers),” Evans said. “We had a good bond, so we would make jokes with each other. I’m like, ‘Okay, you can tell me the truth now.’ And they were like, ‘No Jerod, you completely tore it.’ That’s when I lost it a little bit. My heart dropped.”
With Evans’ football future in doubt, he took a walk-on opportunity at Trinity Valley Community College, just 30 minutes away from his house. Evans wasn’t offered a scholarship immediately due to his still injured knee.
Evans sat on the bench for most of his freshman season thanks to Kyle Postma, who finished the season with 38 touchdowns and well over 3,000 passing yards. This experience served as Evans’ first test in patience.
Fate had other plans for Evans, who was thrust into the starting role for two playoff games after Postma suffered an injury. Evans led Trinity Valley to consecutive wins, setting up the team for a regional championship appearance. With Postma ready to return, Evans exercised that patience once again and relinquished the starting role.
“I don’t like two-headed monsters,” Evans said. “I believe as a leadership position, there should only be one head. There should be one voice.”
That patience paid dividends in 2015, when Evans threw 38 touchdowns and passed for 3,164 yards in just eight games. Evans’ patience had bred success, jettisoning the negativity of the previous two years.
Evans knows what it is like to fight for everything you need. He’s one of nine children of Efrem and Kim Evans and with so many siblings running around, Evans developed that friendly competitive fire early on with his siblings.
“I’ve always been competing,” Evans said. “You think about it — six brothers and two sisters. There’s always something you’re competing on. I want to beat my brother to the refrigerator and if I don’t beat him to the refrigerator, I’m pissed. I’m angry, and I might not talk to him the rest of the day.”
Evans’ inner strength and fire is derived from his family, especially his younger brother Nathaniel. Nathaniel Evans, now 13 years old, suffered an accident as a baby when Nathaniel rolled over while sleeping and stopped breathing. That accident has left Nathaniel without the ability to walk or speak.
“It’s sensitive for me, just for the fact that I’ve seen him breathless,” Evans said. “Like, I was trying to play with him one morning and he wasn’t moving. I’m the one who told my dad he wasn’t breathing. I got to see that firsthand as a young kid.”
At one point, the Evans family wasn’t sure Nathaniel would survive.
“For him to not be breathing and not be moving to being 13 years old now and sit up and be in so much pain but not complain about it, and always be smiling, when I’m down — for instance, I’ve been out of the league for three years now. When I’m frustrated and I’m angry, and I feel like things aren’t working out for me and I feel selfish, I look at him and my church family, my brothers and my sisters, they all put things in perspective. But he puts it into more perspective because of how I’m the one that saw everything.”
Nathaniel’s perseverance serves as an example for the entire family, an example that Jerod still falls back on to this day.
On the surface, Evans’ 2016 season at Virginia Tech was a shining success. Evans’ arrival, along with the arrival of Justin Fuente, ushered in a new era of offense in Blacksburg. The Hokies’ offense immediately kicked into gear and Evans set multiple single-season records. Evans’ 29 passing touchdowns, 3,552 passing yards and 63.8 completion percentage are all school records. Virginia Tech went on to win 10 games in 2016, earning their first ACC Coastal title since 2011.
The success that Evans and his teammates earned that season started at the beginning, when Evans was being recruited to the school.
“Virginia Tech was just a different feeling in general,” Evans said. “It’s not usual that you get that type of feeling.”
Evans specifically remembers two things about his recruitment. The first of which was Blacksburg’s welcoming atmosphere, which students of all backgrounds tend to fall in love with. Evans’ first trip to PK’s, a downtown bar and restaurant, cemented that feeling.
“Everybody knew me. They welcomed me. Like, ‘How do you know me? I’m a regular guy here to play football.’ But they welcomed me with open arms. They treated me like one of their own and it was like that everywhere I went,” Evans said.
The other was Evans’ special relationship with then defensive coordinator Bud Foster. It’s rare for defensive coordinators to play a large role in the recruitment of an offensive player, but Foster and Evans’ relationship was more than rare.
“Bud just struck a chord with me,” Evans said. “I’ve never had a defensive coordinator come up to me and say, ‘If you decide to come here, we can run the table and go to the ACC Championship.’ For him to say that and truly believe in my ability to play the game, there were just certain things he said to me that meant a lot.”
Virginia Tech’s offensive success was due in large part because of Evans, who shouldered an increasing load as the season went on. After Virginia Tech’s 54-17 victory over East Carolina, the Tech offense became increasingly reliant on Evans’ ability to run the football. Evans ran 21 times vs. North Carolina in the middle of a Hurricane, but still averaged 14 carries per game following that performance. Against Clemson and Arkansas, Evans ran the ball a combined 43 times.
The heavy workload resulted in multiple nagging injuries. Evans tweaked his ankle in the Battle at Bristol and tweaked it again vs. Pittsburgh just six weeks later. Evans suffered an impingement in his throwing shoulder vs. North Carolina, an injury that plagued him the entire season.
“I was worn out after the UNC game,” Evans said. “I was running around 20-plus times a game. I was physically worn out. I actually stopped practicing for a while. I wouldn’t practice until like Wednesday or Thursday every week. That was kind of like my schedule.”
When Evans transferred to Trinity Valley Community College, he drew some comparisons to Cam Newton, the eventual National Champion and future NFL first-overall draft pick. Both were big, strong, mobile quarterbacks who went to junior college to prove their mettle. Evans used Newton’s success story as a path laid out for him and even considered Auburn at one point during the recruiting process.
“They wanted me to do the same thing at Auburn and that’s why I didn’t go to Auburn,” Evans said. “They wanted me to run 30 to 40 times. I can do it, you saw that at Virginia Tech, but I play quarterback. I’m a facilitator. I’m the point guard on the field. I like to facilitate and get people the ball and not have me do all of it when you’ve got weapons to do it.”
Evans’ desire to play in a balanced offense led him to Virginia Tech, where Evans still shouldered much of the offensive burden. At the time, Evans felt conflicted about his role in the offense.
“I’m not going to say I hated it because it showed me that (Fuente) trusted me to do all of that,” Evans said. “That’s a lot of responsibility and I was honored that he felt that way about me.”
After the North Carolina game, Evans met with Fuente to talk about his health and his usage. Fuente assured him that the offense would look for more ways to spread the ball on and preserve Evans’ body.
“We talked about it and he said he would implement stuff,” Evans said. “Again, I just think he had a different vision week in and week out. Looking back on it, he trusted me more. It was just frustrating in the moment because I’m getting banged up pretty bad.”
Evans continued to play his role in the offense as the team continued to thrive. Virginia Tech’s 52-10 victory over Virginia on Senior Day capped an incredible regular season, including the ACC Coastal Championship.
“To have an actual goal, you put in all that hard work in and it actually comes to fruition,” Evans said. “And as the season is going along, you do it for all the seniors. It made it that much sweeter because we knew how much hard work the seniors had put into this.”
Evans’ decision to declare early for the NFL Draft didn’t originate from his usage at Virginia Tech. Evans’ mind was set on heading to the professional level after the 2016 season before the season began.
“I had told every coach that was my goal,” Evans said. “I want to be one-and-done. Again, the person I was looking up to in that aspect is Cam Newton. If I had to come back my senior year, it wouldn’t hurt me, but I had already let (Fuente) know before the season.”
Evans felt that he had made his case after the 2016 season. He set records at two different collegiate levels, including the Power 5. He’d shown his ability to pass and run effectively, making himself a true dual-threat quarterback. Evans knew he wasn’t perfect, but he knew he was ready.
“What solidified it was when we won that bowl game,” Evans said. “In my heart, I didn’t have anything else I needed to prove.”
Even though Evans is comfortable with his decision, he does wish he had done things a little differently.
“I feel at peace with everything I’ve done,” Evans said. “The one thing I will say, as a young man making that decision, to literally talk to (Fuente) just one more time and feel comfortable with whatever he had to say at the moment. I feel like if I had done that, it would have been more of a beautiful transition.”
Three years later, Evans is older and wiser. He’s grown mentally and has improved physically. He’s healthy and ready to play ball.
Evans isn’t trying to get anywhere new. He’s trying to get back to where he was. After going undrafted in 2016, Evans signed on with the Philadelphia Eagles. Evans’ time with Philly was short-lived after he broke his foot in rookie minicamp.
“I’ll never forget it,” Evans said. “It was P95 Waffle Coffee, it was a play-action… The day before I had bumped knees with (Corey) Clement and that’s when I really should have messed up something… But I rollout and I kid you not, and on my left foot, I’m about to throw the ball and I hear a pop. I ended up completing the pass. I go to the sideline and I’m like, ‘Man, this can’t be right. I have to walk it off.’”
Evans’ injury left him in free agency until the Green Bay Packers came calling later that season. Evans was signed immediately after Aaron Rodgers’ injury midway through the year. Evans said Rodgers took him under his wing while in Green Bay, even though Evans was persistent with his questions.
“He is, by far, my favorite quarterback,” Evans said of Rodgers. “To be under him, learning from him and him taking me under his wing, it was pretty cool.”
In 2018, Evans played at The Spring League, a development organization designed to get football players chances with the NFL and other professional leagues. Evans landed in the Arena League and played two seasons there. Evans believes the Arena League was beneficial for him because it made him grow as a quarterback.
“You don’t have all day,” Evans said. “You have a couple seconds. It helps your game — the sharpness of the footwork, making touch passes over the linebacker. There’s a lot of anticipation and feel for the game, putting the ball in a tight area because it’s so condensed.”
In terms of 2020, Evans is exploring all of his options. As the United States and Canada begin to emerge from their respective lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Evans is confident that he will get another chance soon. While negativity can breed negativity, optimism can breed optimism.
“There are a lot of things playing a part in this,” Evans said. “At the same time, just getting an opportunity… that’s all you need, just that one opportunity to showcase what you can do.”
Evans looks back on his time at Virginia Tech fondly. He’s working on strengthening friendships with former teammates and coaches, including Fuente. The two have talked more recently than they had in a while and it’s clear there is an unbreakable bond between the two.
As for the fans, Evans misses the overwhelming majority that cherish Evans for his contributions. He hopes he’ll be remembered as the passionate soldier that he personified each Saturday on the field.
“As a team, that we were scratching and clawing no matter what. We gave every game our all. But for me personally, I just want to be remembered as a guy that was a fiery competitor that just loved the game of football, that loves to compete, that loves to win,” Evans said.
For now, Evans is biding his time and staying patient. He’s working on himself, stoking that inner passion. He’s focusing on repelling the negativity that’s haunted him throughout his life. He’s spending more and more time with his family, enjoying the company of his sisters, his parents and his brothers, including Caleb and Lance, both of whom are NCAA football players in their own right. And he’s enjoying his time with Nathaniel, drawing on his strength. And maybe most importantly, keeping the faith.
“I have my moments still when I get frustrated because I want it that bad,” Evans said. “It’s indescribable… When you don’t deserve a lot of stuff and He loves you regardless of what He knows about you and how undeserving you are of His grace and love, it’s like why even trip about a lot of stuff? Yes, it’s frustrating and yes, it’s extremely hurtful, yes, my name has been thrown through the mud, yes, I’ve been misunderstood, yes, I want to prove my point to a lot of people. I just know that when it’s my time, He’s going to allow it to happen.”
How does one write a story that’s not yet finished?
Jerod Evans hasn’t been in the NFL since 2017. His last professional experience came in 2019, when Evans played for the Washington Valor in 2019. And yet, it’s hard to see this story ending here.