Darren Evans is all the way back.
When we first saw him return in spring practice, Evans still looked a step slow on his surgically repaired left knee. Maybe even a little scared to test it.
Then during August scrimmages, there were flashes of the old Evans – a handful of powerful runs, a few flattened defenders – but also moments of inconsistency.
Finally, when the season started, Evans’ role was limited behind Ryan Williams, the guy who became a star last fall while Evans sat out with the knee injury. Evans got just three carries in the opener against Boise State.
In his first chance to help the Hokies with the game on the line, against James Madison, Evans fumbled the ball away in the closing moments. The next week, as Tech trailed ECU, he fumbled again.
Maybe the old Evans was gone, not coming back. Perhaps there was too much, both mentally and physically, to overcome. And with such a crowded backfield, it was conceivable that Evans could disappear on the bench.
After that fumble against the Pirates, Evans gained 70 yards on his final seven carries of the game. Since that fumble, Evans has rushed 36 times for 260 yards (7.2 yards per carry) and three touchdowns.
He has been a back possessed, running hard and angry, and he’s helped the Hokies keep moving without Williams, who injured his hamstring in the first half of that ECU game and hasn’t played since.
Last week, Evans shredded N.C. State for 160 yards on 15 carries, including a 54-yard touchdown run on which he bounced outside and sprinted down the sideline for the score. It was the longest run of his career.
He looked like the old Evans again, only bigger – and maybe faster.
For the season, he now has 320 yards on 49 carries, an average of 6.53 yards per carry, which is well above his average in 2008 when he set a Tech freshman record with 1,265 yards. That year, he averaged 4.41 yards per carry.
This season, Evans is suddenly ripping off yardage in large chunks. He has 17 runs of at least seven yards; nine have gone for 10-plus and seven of them have covered at least 15 yards.
Evans is averaging a big play (10 yards or longer) every 5.4 carries. In 2008, he averaged a big play every 8.4 carries. So, it seems, he’s back. Possibly better than before.
Just don’t ask Evans to get too excited about it. He still doesn’t think you believe in him. He reads Internet message boards, it seems, and Evans found all the fuel he needed for a comeback there amid the anonymous ranting.
Here’s what he had to say today about his road back from injury and what’s left to prove to the lingering doubters ...
RB DARREN EVANS
ON HAVING A LONG BREAKAWAY TOUCHDOWN RUN AGAINST N.C. STATE AND FINALLY GETTING OUT IN THE OPEN AND JUST RUNNING: “It felt good, just because of the circumstance. It was a third-down play and we needed a score. So it felt good.”
ON BEAMER SAYING HE MIGHT BE FASTER SINCE COMING BACK FROM A TORN ACL AND WHETHER HE AGREES: “I wouldn’t necessarily say I feel faster, but the game has really slowed down for me. I just feel so confident out there; I know I can play the game.”
ON THE OFT-CRITICIZED OFFENSIVE LINE FEELING BETTER THIS WEEK AFTER A 300-YARD RUSHING DAY: “They did really good, and they should be smiling. They needed that. A lot of people were kind of down on them early in the season.”
ON SUCCESS ON OUTSIDE RUNNING PLAYS SEEM TO WORK WELL FOR TECH, AND FOR HIM IN PARTICULAR: “It has been good for us. They were actually trying to force it back inside, but the way Andre (Smith) was blocking it, he was making the block for the run to go back outside. Then receivers just did a good job blocking downfield. It led to an easy game. I had really big holes basically every time.”
ON SQUARING AWAY HIS FUMBLING ISSUES AND HOW MUCH WAS SIMPLY MENTAL: “That was the biggest thing, just (focusing on it) in practice and stuff. I can honestly say I just wasn’t really worried about it (previously) because it’s never been a problem.”
ON RUNNING WITH MORE CONFIDENCE THE LAST FEW GAMES: “That and a slightly bigger role with Ryan being out now. I just want to pick up the slack and get this offense on a roll. We need it. We’re going into a tough schedule. We just need to get this thing rolling.”
ON THE HOKIES’ SLOW STARTS IN SEVERAL GAMES THIS YEAR: “We definitely need to start faster so we don’t get ourselves in a hole like that. It’s hard to come back. I’d rather play ahead ... basically just score as many points as we can as fast as we can early on in the game. It just makes it easier throughout the game, to have a little room to spare.”
ON WHETHER HE FEELS EVEN BETTER THAN IN 2008: “I think I have a lot to prove. That’s just me and the way I was taught to play the game, to always run hard and do what I need to do to get yards and score touchdowns. I do kind of have a chip on my shoulder, because I felt like I was overlooked at times.”
ON WHAT MADE HIM FEEL OVERLOOKED: “Just different things that I read (on Internet message boards). I know I shouldn’t take the opinions of everybody, but some of that stuff was coming from Hokies fans themselves. That’s big on you when the same people who are rooting for you are also kind of rooting against you – rooting for the guy behind you or in front of you. I shouldn’t have taken it the way I’m did, but I’m using it as motivation rather than being mad at anybody.”
ON WHAT THINGS HE READ: “Just people thinking that the better chance to win was having David (Wilson) and Ryan in the game, rather than me. They do give us a really good chance to win. They’re both explosive athletes. They play the game really good, so I can’t knock (fans) for thinking that. But I also want to prove that I can do it, too.”
ON WHETHER HE’S HAD A SIGH-OF-RELIEF MOMENT THIS SEASON, WHERE HE KNEW HE WAS FULLY BACK: “Not yet, because I don’t want to get satisfied. There’s a lot for me to do, a lot for me to prove. I still feel like there’s a lot of yards out there for me to run. If I’m satisfied, I might not get it. I’m just going to keep working hard, keep running as hard as I can.”
ON HOW MUCH HE HOPES TO SHOW THIS SEASON THAT HE STILL HAS NFL POTENTIAL: “I definitely want to prove that. Now more than ever, because I’m coming off an injury. That’s obviously a goal for me, or else I wouldn’t be here seven and a half hours away from home, playing football.”
ON WILSON’S HALFTIME PREDICTION THAT HE WAS GOING TO RUN BACK THE SECOND-HALF KICKOFF: “I was there, and he just basically said it: ‘I’m going to run this kick back.’ Sure enough, he did it. He was jumping in the end zone after he got in there.”
ON HOW WILLIAMS (HAMSTRING) LOOKED IN PRACTICE MONDAY: “He looked good, but I could tell it’s still kind of bothering him a little bit. I just think he’ll take it day by day and see how it goes. I know he won’t push it.”
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