For Virginia Tech's Darren Evans, there's more to life than football

By Mark Giannotto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 24, 2010; 11:16 PM

IN BLACKSBURG, VA. Darren Evans was too embarrassed to tell people about his new job. Already homesick as a Virginia Tech freshman, he didn't like working the night shift at a Wendy's on campus, where his main responsibility was to mop the floors.

"I hate cleaning up, especially other people's messes," said Evans, who was then just a year removed from setting an Indiana state record for touchdowns.

Now a redshirt junior running back at Virginia Tech, Evans, 21, has always had a job in the offseason, an anomaly in the world of college football, where year-round workouts consume players' lives.

After setting the Virginia Tech freshman rushing record in 2008, Evans worked at a company that cleaned up hazardous waste in his home town of Indianapolis. The next summer, he delivered office supplies around the Blacksburg area. He washed dishes at a local restaurant this past summer.

None of these jobs qualifies as an internship for his ultimate goal - playing in the NFL - but Evans's concerns are not limited to his football development: He's recently married and the father of a 3-year-old son. When the Hokies open ACC play against Boston College on Saturday, Evans likely will start at tailback for the first time since tearing an ACL last year, but at the end of the day, what he does on the field won't define his entire life.

"I've never seen a more well-rounded person in terms of handling all those responsibilities," fullback Kenny Younger said. "At this age in college, it's hard enough going to class and showing up for practice, let alone the responsibility of having a child and a significant other like that. It's unbelievable that he's able to do as well as he does."

Not 'a deadbeat dad'

In the early afternoon on Nov. 29, 2006, Warren Central High School football coach Steve Tutsie sat in a passenger seat and gave driving directions to Virginia Tech running backs coach Billy Hite. When the car arrived at a hospital, Hite wondered, "What's wrong?"

"Darren wants to be the one to tell you," Tutsie replied.

Hite was taken to the maternity ward and into a room filled with Evans's family and the family of his future wife. Aunts, uncles and cousins all surrounded Taneesha Evans, then Darren's girlfriend, as she prepared to give birth to James Evans.

"Here she is laying in the bed, in labor, and I'm having a home visit about Virginia Tech talking to both sides of the family," said Hite, shaking his head and laughing.

Evans, meantime, was just excited he could tell Hite about his situation face-to-face. Though he couldn't stop thinking about what his new son would look like, Hite's presence that day ultimately persuaded Evans to come to Virginia Tech.

Otherwise, it had been a tough nine months for the star running back, as his family came to grips with the fact that Darren Evans was going to be a father at the age of 18.

"We knew we had made a mistake, but we had to make the best of it," Evans said this week. "The mistake being that we were so young; obviously James isn't a mistake to us now. . . . I wanted to be there for him. I didn't want to be a deadbeat dad. I had my dad in my life, and I just always thought it would be unfair if I wasn't in James's life."

Evans's family situation didn't deter Virginia Tech's interest. The coaching staff was just concerned with whether Evans could handle it all: being a father, a football player and a student.

Their fears were realized during Evans's first year in Blacksburg, where he spent most of his time on the phone with Taneesha and considered transferring somewhere closer to home. His low point came when Taneesha came to visit Blacksburg for the first time and baby James didn't recognize his father.

But in July 2008, Taneesha and James moved into a one-bedroom, off-campus apartment with Evans for his redshirt freshman season, and not coincidentally, he showcased his powerful running style during a breakout fall, rushing for 1,265 yards as the Hokies went on to win the 2009 Orange Bowl.

The on-field success came to a sudden halt last August, when Evans tore his ACL in a non-contact drill during a preseason practice. He then watched from the sideline as teammate Ryan Williams broke his freshman rushing record. But while he suffered a setback, the injury and subsequent rehabilitation only confirmed to Evans how important family can be.

"In my lows, they were always there for me, and in my highs they're there for me, too," Evans said. "I know if I don't make it, life's not over. James is not gonna stop growing up because I don't make it. Taneesha's not gonna stop loving me if I don't make it, so I know life will go on."

Game isn't everything

These days, Evans's life is busy. His knee is healthy again, and with Williams nursing a hamstring injury this week, Evans could make his first start since the Orange Bowl. He lives comfortably in a three-bedroom apartment, paying the rent with the housing stipend from his scholarship and the money Taneesha makes working in customer relations for Dish Network. The couple splits duties such as cooking, cleaning and taking James, who will turn 4 in November, to day care.

"I'm so proud of Darren," Hite said. "His son is the most important thing in his life. Most guys 18 or 19 years old wouldn't take care of those responsibilities."

This summer, Darren and Taneesha went to a Roanoke courthouse and got married. Making it official felt right to Evans, who said his relationship with his wife has evolved from "puppy love" in high school to "dedicating ourselves to each other."

Evans shakes off the notion that he has to support his family with an NFL paycheck, but those close to him know how much he wants to play on Sundays.

"There's a lot of pressure because he wants to switch roles," Taneesha said. "He wants me to go to school, and he wants to be the provider. There's a lot of pressure so he can provide for us like he wants to, but I tell him all the time: 'There's no rush. I don't mind working.' "

In limited action so far this season, Evans has rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown. But he also has fumbled twice - out of character for a player who had just two previous fumbles in his college career and has a tattoo on his left triceps that reads "rumble, stumble, never fumble."

One of those fumbles came in the fourth quarter of Virginia Tech's upset loss to division I-AA James Madison while the Hokies were driving for a potential go-ahead score. Afterward, he buried his dreadlocked head into his hands, a picture that was featured prominently in newspapers and Web sites around the country.

When he came home after that game, it took James to get him out of his funk.

"He met me at the door and he said, 'Let's go play with dinosaurs,' and I didn't think about it again that night," Evans said. "That's something a lot of people don't have. I was with somebody who didn't give a care about the game. . . .

"Having a family, it just lets me know there's bigger things in life than this sport. I think some people get caught up thinking that this is just their life. And this is my life, but this isn't all. I know that helps me prepare and it helps me be the best player I can be. That way, I can keep playing this game as long as I possibly can."

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