Nate Evans knew he would get his opportunity in the NFL.
He was in contact with 15-20 teams leading up to the NFL Draft and sending videos of his personal workouts to interested suitors. He gained some valuable face-to-face networking time with NFL personnel at January’s Hula Bowl. He saw the scouts up along UCF’s sideline during the season and knew that some of them — including one from the Jacksonville Jaguars — were tracking everything he did.
But there is a difference between expecting to get your opportunity and seeing it come to fruition. That is where Evans found himself when he picked up his phone on April 25 in the wake of the draft. It was the Jaguars, and they wanted to sign him to a free-agent contract.
“I really kind of didn’t believe it. I kind of was still in shock,” Evans said.
Appreciate all the love and support, if I didn’t get to you the love is still felt. Thank you— Nate Evans (@OHthats_nate) April 26, 2020
Besides his reputation as a tackling machine and a natural leader in college, Evans put himself in this position with a rigorous workout routine during the pre-draft process. Back home in New Orleans, he prepared with his personal trainer who directed his gym training, and a longtime coach who directed his on-field drills.
And Evans knew what prospective teams wanted to see in those drills. He had basically memorized his scouting report. He understood his weaknesses.
Evans, who always played downhill the past two seasons in UCF’s attack-heavy scheme — focused on pass-coverage drills. He wanted to show that he could stick with that tight end or running back coming out of the slot, that he can turn his hips swiftly and go, that he does have enough speed, that he can handle man-to-man or drop into a zone smartly. From there, Evans said his agent would take the tape, “make it fancy” and send it off to any interested parties.
“I can’t even say it was hard work because it’s something that we sign up for,” Evans said of his pre-draft prep. “It’s something a lot of us have been doing for a long time, so it’s really natural. If anything, it’s just a sacrifice of time. I enjoyed the whole process.”
⚔️ NEW PODCAST! ⚔️ @ChrisVannini of @TheAthleticCFB joins us to talk about #COVID19 and its impact on the G5, @American_Conf and #UCF in particular.— Black & Gold Banneret (@UCF_Banneret) April 30, 2020
Plus we recap @UCF_Football in the #NFLDraft and break down the Knights’ landing spots. https://t.co/DQXmOhgwpd
Being home with family helped make that process a little easier. He took advantage of his longest homecoming in more than four years by spending time with his mother and grandmother, both of whom were around him when the Jaguars rang.
Evans had many in-person visits set up with NFL teams in March and April, including one that was scheduled to be held after his showing at UCF’s pro day on March 26. Of course, none of that went down as planned, and Evans believes that changed his fate in the NFL Draft.
Under usual circumstances, Evans believes he would have heard his name called before the end of Day 3, something he said would have been “a glory” to his years of hard work.
“I’ve been speaking this into existence since I can’t even tell you — a young pup,” he said. “It would have been a glory to get a phone call, but it is what it is.”
In the end, that phone call did come. Maybe a little later than he would have liked, but it came nonetheless. Evans said he fielded a few official offers from NFL teams. So, why the Jaguars? It had less to do with any sort of guaranteed money than his desire to play in a familiar, friendly setting.
“The Jags, they had an awesome offer that I really couldn’t refuse,” Evans said. “I get the opportunity to come back to my second home, where I have a big fan base, where I get some love at, a place that I’m already comfortable with. ... I’ll do what I need to do. I’m happy that it was Jacksonville, and I’m ready to rock.”
Evans also sees a lot of himself in Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack, another undersized LB. (And he’s not the only one) He wants to learn under the UCLA alum in order to better himself. Evans is looking forward to working with Jack — but he first has to get a hold of him, something that had evaded him as of this conversation last Thursday.
“If Myles can hear this, I’m trying to get in touch with Myles,” Evans pleaded. “If Myles can hear this, let’s make this happen.”
While trying to get in touch with new teammates, Evans is still very much in touch with his old ones. He remains in a group chat with the UCF linebackers he used to lead and received a bunch of messages from his former teammates on that fateful Saturday night, including senior linebacker Eric Mitchell.
“When he got signed to Jacksonville,” Mitchell recalled, “we actually had a conversation with him, telling him just to go up there and grind and do him. Be the best he can be.
“Just to see him, where he’s at now, that’s like extra motivation for me and I know for the other linebackers for this upcoming season. He just shows us if you work, you grind, you stay positive, it’s going to be a pretty outcome. Congrats to Nate.”
Don’t pat him too hard on the back. Evans looks at his opportunity with the Jaguars as the beginning toward a new goal more so than the end of a long-desired one. He has a lengthy road to travel to be a successful NFL player, but he is ready to bet on himself.
“I’m not even going to say I’m here, because I’m not in there yet,” Evans said about being an NFL player. “I have an opportunity and that’s all I needed because, obviously, when you turn on my film, you see an awesome ballplayer.
“Now it’s time to go cause some havoc.”