On the edge, turning the corner

Ohio junior defensive end Will Evans (9) works against offensive tackle Austen Pleasants (60) during the Bobcats’ practice on Monday, Aug. 12, 2019 inside Peden Stadium.

Will Evans has decided to try to reach higher by acknowledging his roots.

Evans, a fourth-year junior defensive end from Augusta, Ga., will have a different look in 2019. After three seasons wearing No. 51, Evans will be clad in No. 9 this fall.

There’s a reason for the change. He wanted to acknowledge his past now that his present is somewhat secure as a leader and key contributor for the Bobcats.

The No. 9 jersey he’ll wear is a nod to the age he was when he first played the game that has now become his passion. It’s also the age when he lost one of the foundations of his life.

Her name was LuLa Bell Samuels, she was his grandmother, and she’ll never be forgotten. Her name was already etched on Evans’ chest in the form of a tattoo. And now he’ll have another reminder on every Ohio game day as well.

“She was very loving, and kind, and I was always around here as a kid,” Evans said. “I was always around her. She was my rock, honestly.

“For us to lose her, at what I felt was a critical time in my life, that hit me hard.”

Evans requested the number change to pay homage to a turbulent, and important age, in his life. At nine years old, he lost a loved one and found the game that delivered him to Ohio University.

“Those are the two things I don’t think I’ve every told anybody,” Evans said. “That’s why I changed my number. I’ll be dedicating this year, and next, to her.”

Evans has become a foundational player for Ohio as well. He emerged as a technically sound, and dependable, every game starter at defensive end in 2018. He was always where he was supposed to be, led by example in his position group, and graded out higher than any other defensive end.

But, as sound as he was, Evans came up short in the number of explosive plays provided. He finished last year with 29 tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks.

“I got in the backfield and I was disruptive a good amount, but I always feel like I can do better,” Evans explained. “We’re never satisfied. That’s all I have to say about that.”

Evans had a number of ‘near-misses’ a season ago. A step here, taking the proper approach on a QB there, and a myriad of other little things all contributed to the low sack number. And the problem was one familiar to the entire unit. Ohio finished with 25 sacks in 2018 — not great, but not bad either — and the top five defensive ends combined for 8.0 sacks.

But the Bobcats returns each of those five defensive ends from last season — Evans, Amos Ogun-Semore, Austin Conrad, Sam McKnight and Chukwudi Chukwu. The expectations are high that the group will finish off far more of those kind of opportunities in 2019.

‘We’re all coming back, having a good idea what the schemes are going to be this year. We’ve all had playing time and a good opportunity to get some experience on the field,” Evans said. “That makes us a big threat.”

Ohio DE coach/co-defensive coordinator Pete Germano expects Evans to be the biggest threat of all. Germano admits he expects more out of Evans — a first-time captain in 2019 — and highlights the need for the DE to eliminate the games where he ‘disappears’ or fails to get impact plays.

“Will possesses all you want in an end in terms of physicality, strength, power and speed,” Germano said. “He can really bring it. He’s got all the tools.

“I’ve got to make sure he uses them every week. He’s one of those guys who’s too good to disappear in games.”

Evans is embracing the expectations. He knows he’s part of a deep group at defensive end, but it’s on him to lead by example.

He’s built a foundation over three seasons at Ohio as being one of the Bobcats’ steadiest defenders. Now it’s time to elevate, and what better way to motivate himself to do that than remembering someone who helped him find the path more than a decade ago.

“In 2019, we’re going to finish more of those plays,” Evans said. “I’m ready to see this through.”

Email at jarkley@athensmessenger.com; follow on Twitter @JasonAmessenger

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