Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Tough ACC opener suits rugged Evans

The grizzled lineman was exhausted and exhilarated. He'd already reveled with teammates in the locker room, hoisted the 2008 ACC championship trophy, waved to the fans who'd come south.

He was about to hit the bus for a triumphant ride out of town. Just then, somebody stopped him and asked him about one teammate in particular: Virginia Tech running back Darren Evans.

That's when Ryan Shuman's expression changed, from one of celebration and exhaustion to one of appreciation.

"He runs tough, breaks tackles," Shuman, then a senior center, said that day. "He's the type of back you like blocking for -- keeps his mouth shut, just keeps plugging, keeps doing his thing."

Today, nearly two years after that moment, Darren's day has come again.

With Ryan Williams shelved with an ankle injury, Evans is the featured tailback for the first time since he lost the 2009 season to ACL woes. And the opponent -- Boston College -- couldn't be more appropriate for his return to the spotlight.

The Eagles are always a tough team, always a fundamentally sound team, and he knows this as well as anyone. It's the team he faced in his first college start, the team he battered for 114 yards and a touchdown in that '08 conference championship game, a team he subsequently called "the most physical team we've played against, by far."

Something about Evans' style of running suits this matchup. He doesn't care to juke you, even though he can. He isn't interested in making the highlight reels, although he inevitably will several times a year.

No, Evans wants to tuck that ball and attack you with all the force his 220-pound body can muster.

"Come get me," each Evans carry says. "Lets see who wins."

And it's exactly what the Hokies need as they open their ACC schedule in Chestnut Hill today.

You still wonder if this offensive line can block? Yep, most of us do. But here's the thing: Evans doesn't. He'll take whatever the grunts give him and be the first to thank them for it.

But if they happen to give him nothing, his approach remains the same.

The great thing about Evans is that he's worried just as much about what he can do for his lineman as what his linemen can do for him. Can he blast through that arm tackle, rendering a missed assignment moot? Can he push that pile an extra two yards, making the overall rushing average better?

They're all in this together. And much like his team, Evans is looking to improve on a start to this season that has been far less than ideal.

He got just four carries in the loss to Boise State. He toted it just seven times -- and lost a crucial fumble on one of them -- in the shocking defeat against James Madison.

Last week, though, he started to show some signs of the old Evans. He gained 91 yards on 10 carries in Tech's win against East Carolina, the highest per-tote rushing average of his career.

"Really important," Evan said of the breakthrough. "That's big for me to have a game like that, for the stats to be what they were and the outcome to be what it was."

He'll need another strong performance for today's outcome to be positive for Tech. Although he'll be splitting carries with David Wilson -- who has impressed nearly every time he's touched the ball thus far -- Evans should get his first legitimate chance to prove he's all the way back from his injury today.

"Reps are limited," Evans said, referring to the first three games. "You just don't get a whole lot of opportunities. ... We've been in some tough circumstances where we didn't get as many offensive plays as we'd like. The process of me coming back and being the same player I was before is going to be different compared to if it was just me or it was just me and Ryan."

Physically, though, Evans insists that he's already there. All that remains is for him to go out there and prove it against an old nemesis.

He hopes to leave his linemen smiling -- and victorious -- once again.

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