By Trey Williams
Mike Evans played football for the love of the game – not for the love of his father.
Granted, it could be difficult to know the difference when your father was the head coach at Science Hill from the time you were six years old until you were starting for him as a sophomore in high school. But Evans, an All-State linebacker at Science Hill who went on to start at Memphis State, said his dad, Bob “Snake” Evans, cleared the air early when his son began attending Science Hill.
“He sat me down one time and said, ‘You know, don’t think you have to play just because I’m a coach. If it’s something you really don’t like and don’t want to do, then you don’t have to play,’” Evans said Sunday. “But I loved playing. I thought, ‘Have you lost your mind or something.’ But I kind of knew what he’s doing, because I was always hearing him and other coaches talk about situations that would come up through the years, when parents had pushed kids to play that didn’t really want to play, and it just never turned out good.”
It turned out splendidly for Evans, who played against the likes of Herschel Walker, Willie Gault and Reggie White in college. But having his dad, a low-key man with a dry wit, working long hours teaching and coaching, didn’t seem like such a cool deal when he was a youngster.
“He was always up there coaching,” Evans said. “And when I was a little kid and he’d come home – I couldn’t wait, because I’d run patterns in the backyard and he’d throw me the ball. … I always enjoyed that.
“He tried to teach me how to punt but I wasn’t a very good punter. He was a great punter. He could punt a ball and it was a spiral – every punt. And it’d go, you know, 40 yards.”
As fate would have it, Evans only played for his father as a sophomore. (Science Hill freshmen weren’t eligible due to grades 7-9 being at two schools – Independence Hall and Constitution Hall – on the Liberty Bell campus.)
Coach Evans went 67-30-2 overall at Science Hill and 6-4 against Dobyns-Bennett during 10 seasons, but was replaced by Tommy Hundley following Mike’s sophomore season.
“I liked Coach Hundley,” Evans said. “I thought he was a good coach. So I didn’t have a problem with him.
“I think my senior year he was probably frustrated with us, because we had so much talent and we just didn’t have a very good season. We were 4-6. We had a really good defense but we just couldn’t get any offense going.”
Hundley’s Hilltoppers had their moments while going 7-3 during his debut when Evans was a junior, including wins against Tennessee High and Elizabethton.
Hundley, a Science Hill alum, might’ve been most excited after the win at Tennessee High, where he’d been an assistant when the Vikings were winning state championships and a mythical national title.
“With his history at Tennessee High, that has a big game for him,” Evans said. “And we went up there and beat them at their place when they were undefeated.”
Quarterback Jeff Owens ran for 1- and 88-yard touchdowns and Ronnie Hairston ran 15 yards for a score. Evans, who was listed at 6-foot, 215 pounds in college, played a solid game to help contain running back Jeff Eury (Carson-Newman defensive back).
“Mike went both ways as an offensive guard and linebacker,” said teammate Mark Eades, who recovered a fumble in the win at Tennessee High. “Linebacker was his sweet spot, though. He was our team captain our senior year. He was strong and fast and was very difficult to block. When an offensive lineman tried to block Mike he would stop them in their tracks, throw them to the side and make the tackle.”
Evans was ahead of the curve when it came to the weight room. Seeing older players such as Science Hill teammate Van Williams (Buffalo Bills) and Unicoi County’s Clark Duncan (Tennessee Volunteers) helped him appreciate the value of such work.
“Van Williams and Clark Duncan were two of the best athletes I’ve ever seen,” Evans said. “And I saw some really good athletes when I was at Memphis. … I played with several guys that played in the pros and I played against a lot of guys that played in the pros, and I ran across somebody that knew Van up there, and they told me his nickname was ‘The Hulk.’ I said ‘Yeah, I can see that.’”
Evans played against Tennessee twice. In 1981 he picked off a Steve Alatorre pass in the second quarter and returned it some 30 yards to set up a go-ahead score.
“I ran it back to maybe about the 35-yard line,” Evans said. “Alatorre was throwing a curl route to Willie Gaultand I just sort of came across underneath in front of him and picked it off and ran it up the sideline and cut it back. Looking at the film, if I’d just kept going, there was another guy coming up behind me that would’ve blocked for me, because Alatorre was the only person left to tackle me and I had blocker coming up behind me. I didn’t see him, so I sort of cut it back and Alatorre cut my legs out from under to take me down.
“And then the next play we ran a trap to the fullback and scored. It put us up 9-3 because we missed the extra point. It was in the second quarter.”
Before the quarter was over, Alatorre and Gault got even.
“Right before the half with about 30 seconds left they threw a touchdown pass to Willie Gault,” Evans said. “It was a crossing route over the middle and I didn’t drop deep enough. Alatorre was getting ready to run the ball and I was coming up to tackle him and he threw the ball right over my head to Gault coming across the middle. He probably caught it about the 10-yard line and cut up and scored with it. That made it 10-9 at the half.”
Evans recovered a Kenneth Cooper fumble in the Tigers’ 29-3 loss at UT in ’81. It might’ve kept Fuad Reveiz from going 6-for-6 on field goal attempts.
Former Science Hill teammate Billy Wise started at tight end for Ole Miss when his 17th-ranked Rebels beat Memphis in Oxford in 1980. Evans didn’t start until the following season but was playing special teams.
“Billy was on the kickoff return and I was on the kickoff coverage team and I remember him saying that he tried to hit me one time,” Evans said. “I was so focused on going after the ball that I never paid attention to who was trying to block or anything like that.”
As impressive as Herschel Walker was, Evans was more impressed with Georgia center Wayne Radloff.
“I was lined up over the center in our defense that we ran,” Evans said. “And Wayne Radloff was a really big guy. He played in the pros for years and years and years. And he was 6-5, 285 or something like that.
“Usually guys that big had trouble moving, but he didn’t have any trouble. He was athletic and he was tough to handle.”
Emory Hale, who coached Steve Spurrier at Science Hill, won three state titles at Oak Ridge and was head coach at Austin Peay, was impressed with Evans.
“As a linebacker, Mike was a great high school player and a good college player,” Hale said. “Not only was Mike a good athlete and physically strong, but he was a smart player.”
Cregg Moss, who saw Evans play when Memphis visited Virginia Tech, was Evans’ position coach at Science Hill.
“He was a strong kid and he was a good runner,” said Moss, also noting Evans’ smarts. “Mike could make a good coach out of you.”
Football was in his blood.
“I remember he wouldn’t wear his mouth guard, and one day in practice our sophomore year he got his front tooth broke in half,” Eades said. “Mike’s dad got really mad at him.”
Indeed, Coach Evans wanted things done correctly.
“If he said be home at 12 o’clock, it didn’t mean 12:01,” Evans said. “You didn’t want to walk through the door at 12:01.”
Bowl season always brings Evans’ father to mind. A number of coaches would visit on New Year’s Day to watch bowl games.
“You only had three networks back then and we didn’t have cable,” Evans said. “We’d bring the TV from downstairs up. So we’d have two TVs and a little portable TV. We’d have three TVs going at the same time.
“Everybody’s sitting around watching and they’re all talking, and I’m just listening to ‘em because they’re all talking football, you know, about this play or that play. It was pretty awesome.”
Hale was seemingly always there on New Year’s Day, and said it was fitting that the father in those settings ended up avidly following the son while he played in college.
“Snake-eye saw him play all the time in college,” Hale said. “The most fun they might’ve ever had was going to New Orleans to watch him (play Tulane). I know Mike’s father was very proud of him.”