Sunday, December 07, 2008

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Bruised and battered Evans gives Hokies winning touch

TAMPA, Fla. -- He did not move.

The T-shirts and hats were already out of the box and sailing toward the outstretched arms of other Virginia Tech players, the celebration of another ACC championship had long since begun, but Darren Evans did not move.

Nearby, coach Frank Beamer laughed as he got doused with Gatorade. Teammates grinned and stood on benches and pointed to cameras and the crowd.

At that moment, it was plenty safe to let loose. But Darren Evans just stood there, scuffed helmet on, scraped hands on hips, waiting to go back in the game. His white pants were soaked with sweat and streaked with grass stains. His shoulders looked like a 3-year-old had gotten hold of some maroon paint and gone nuts on them, the colorful remnants of all those blows from Boston College helmets.

Evans wasn't about to celebrate just yet. There was still time on the clock. That meant there was still work for him to do.

As if the kid hadn't done enough.

A fixture of focus. That's what this Tech season has been all about, hasn't it? Distractions left, commotion right, frenzy from above -- all of it threatening to deter the Hokies from their goal of repeating as ACC champs. Yet here they are, crowned again. Three times in five years now, they've bullied us into becoming believers.

And nobody embodied that determination on Saturday more than Darren Evans.

Let's be clear here: Tech's 30-12 domination of Boston College on Saturday was a team victory in every sense. Huge plays from established leaders Tyrod Taylor, Macho Harris and Orion Martin. A stellar performance from the offensive line, which managed to move the previously unmovable BC defense. Quarterback crunches from Cody Grimm, Jason Worilds, Brett Warren and Cordarrow Thompson. An entire defense swarming, forcing fumbles, intercepting passes, taking ownership of the game We've seen a lot of that before. But Evans did something that many thought couldn't be done. He ran straight into the heart of that ruthless BC front seven and came out a winner, pounding ahead for 114 yards, one touchdown and a slew of bruises.

"That was the most physical team we've played against, by far," Evans said on the field, moments after the final whistle. "That defense is outstanding. They were coming up to hit, and nobody was scared to hit."

Least of all Evans. The Hokies employed a pretty simple game plan here Saturday -- be tougher than the other guys -- and Evans executed it to perfection. He blocked well. He ran through defenders. He pushed piles forward. He helped Tech spin the clock and gain nearly a 12-minute edge in time of possession.

"We expect a performance like that every day out of him," Tech center Ryan Shuman said. "He runs tough, breaks tackles. He's the type of back you like blocking for -- keeps his mouth shut, just keep plugging, keeps doing his thing."

And that's the best part: Evans is only a redshirt freshman. We might not even know how good his thing can be.

The Darren Evans story is well-documented. Lightly recruited despite a record-breaking high school career in Indianapolis. The father of a young child whom he loves dearly and works during the summers to support. A serious case of homesickness during his redshirt year in 2007, which subsided only when his girlfriend and little James moved to Blacksburg.

It's an interesting story already, but it's evolving at an alarming rate. He's become a star. He broke Tech's single-game rushing mark against Maryland. And on Saturday, he became the first freshman in Tech history -- and just the sixth in ACC history -- to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.

"He's got more on his plate than most people will in a lifetime, and he's doing it at a young age," running backs coach Billy Hite said.

"The thing I'm proud about him is not many guys 18 or 19 years old will take care of their responsibilities like he has. And I can tell you, you see him with that boy, when he has baby James in his arms, he has a glow on his face.

"Having that baby means more to him than rushing for 1,000 yards, I can tell you that right now. But again, I don't know how many 18- or 19-year-old kids would feel that way. I really don't."

Priorities. Pretty important, aren't they? And despite the doubts, the Hokies have kept theirs in the right place: Ignore the outside and evolve.

"The first game Darren started was against Boston College, and he was a different player today than he was the first time we played them," Hite said. "Of course, he's like everyone else on our team. We asked these young guys to do one thing -- to get better every week -- and that's exactly what he did."

Evans really is a lot like the others. Tough. Strong. Precocious.

A fixture of focus. And once again, a champion.

Weather Journal

News tips, photos and feedback?
Sign up for free daily news by email