BLACKSBURG, Va. — Jerod Evans started writing down his goals as a little kid, separating them into three neat sections: Short, Medium, Long Term. It was something his father suggested he start doing, and it turned out to be a satisfying exercise for a child who liked order and control.
“As a perfectionist, I liked that because I could make a to-do list,” Evans said Tuesday night, flicking an imaginary pen against his palm. “Check, check, check.”
In late August, Evans finally got to cross off the goal that had structured his life since he was a freshman in high school, when Coach Justin Fuente named Evans the starting quarterback at Virginia Tech. Since then, Evans has reignited a fan base thirsting for the type of high-octane offense that had sputtered in former coach Frank Beamer’s final years in Blacksburg. The Hokies (3-1, 1-0 ACC) enter this weekend ranked in the Associated Press top 25 for the first time in more than two years.
And so Evans turns back to his list. Winning an ACC championship is one of his long-term goals, but the 22-year-old’s focus is short-term, dialed in on leading the No. 25 Hokies to a road win on Saturday against No. 17 North Carolina (4-1, 2-0).
In the first four games, Evans has made good on Fuente’s decision to start him over fifth-year senior Brenden Motley and true freshman Josh Jackson. The junior college transfer has racked up 964 passing yards in four games and thrown for 13 touchdowns, one behind ACC leaders and national stars Lamar Jackson of Louisville and Deshaun Watson of Clemson. With just one interception in 103 attempts, Evans’s pass efficiency rating of 185.3 leads the ACC and is fourth best in the nation. He is also the Hokies’ second-leading rusher, with 209 yards and one touchdown.
The 6-foot-4, 240-pound junior’s start fulfills his conviction that he could start at quarterback for a major college, though the path was far from smooth.
He had fallen in love with the position as a 14-year-old — he loved being in control of the play and trusted himself to make the right decision. He caught the eye of big-time programs while at Mansfield High outside Dallas, but at a skinny 180-to-190 pounds, they wanted him to play wide receiver.
“I’ll never forget it, Texas A&M was my first offer,” Evans said. “They said, if you want to switch your position, we’ll offer you right now. I told them no. My head coach at my high school got pretty pissed, but I wanted to follow my heart.”
Air Force turned out to be his best option, but he suffered a torn right anterior cruciate ligament early in his freshman year in 2014 and, after a change of heart over attending a military academy, was granted his release. He landed at Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Tex., where he started on the scout team while rehabilitating his injury.
“Well, the first day we were out, I was with that group,” Clay Patterson, Evans’s offensive coordinator at Trinity, said in a phone interview this week. Evans “was throwing, I was like, ‘All right, this dude’s special.’ There’s something about him the first time I saw him throw a football. . . . He was confident in what he could do and he backed it up.”
Evans moved to second on the depth chart behind Kyle Postma, who went on to sign with Houston. When Postma was injured, Evans got his first start in the conference semifinals and tied a program record with six touchdown passes. The following week, he threw for four touchdowns and ran for two more as Trinity Valley claimed the championship.
When it came time for the team’s bowl game, Postma was healthy. Evans knew he had to step aside.
“Jerod knew he was coming back for another year,” Patterson said. “He said, ‘Coach Patterson, I want Postma to play in the game. Don’t rotate us, play Postma so he can get recruited, so he can get out. It’s going to be my deal next year.’ ”
The next season, in 2015, Evans threw 38 touchdowns and just three interceptions in 287 attempts, averaging 395.5 passing yards in eight games. It was early in that season that Fuente, then the head coach at Memphis, took notice. His offensive coordinator, Brad Cornelsen, once coached Patterson, Evans’s offensive coordinator at Trinity Valley.
Evans became the top-ranked dual-threat junior college quarterback in the country. Texas, Louisiana State, Missouri and Texas A&M all wanted him. But Fuente was the only coach who had taken the time to get to know Evans, his eight siblings ranging from ages 7 to 26, his mom and his dad, who is Evans’s greatest confidant.
Fuente learned from Patterson that Evans had been preparing to be a Division I quarterback his entire playing career. Evans had turned to Patterson not only to learn the spread offense but also for development “from the neck up,” as Evans put it.
Fuente wanted Evans for his talent and his maturity. Evans wanted Fuente so he could win another conference championship. Last December, two weeks after Fuente became Virginia Tech’s head coach, Evans became his first commit.
“I came here for the goals I want to accomplish with this team and this coach,” Evans said.
Fuente “doesn’t let me get away with things. He’s always going to stay on me, and my whole journey’s been that. High school, junior college, here, there’s always been somebody that never let me take it easy on myself. That’s kind of why I picked this place, I know he’s always going to be yappin’, ‘Jerod fix this, Jerod fix that.’ It’s never easy. But my journey’s never been easy, so it kind of fits.”
Where: Kenan Stadium.
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. Eastern
TV: ABC or ESPN2 (regional coverage).
Storm warning: Hurricane Matthew is expected to largely spare coastal North Carolina, though it is expected to be pouring in Chapel Hill on Saturday afternoon. Virginia Tech drenched footballs in practice this week in an effort to mimic game conditions. There will be at least one hurricane-tested Hokie on the sidelines in defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who coached Virginia Tech’s 2003 game against Texas A&M at Lane Stadium in the midst of Hurricane Isabel.
Tricky Trubisky: North Carolina junior Mitch Trubisky, in his first season as a starter, has the potential to be the newest member of the ACC’s fearsome fraternity of quarterbacks. Trubisky’s accuracy and decision-making are often praised by opposing coaches; he is the only quarterback at a Power Five school who hasn’t thrown an interception this season. The junior also owns the highest completion percentage in the nation at 76 percent and averages 342.2 passing yards per game, including 405 in the Tar Heels’ last-second upset of then-No. 12 Florida State last weekend. His favorite receiver, Ryan Switzer, has the fourth-most receptions in the nation, with 47.
Numbers game: This will be just the 10th meeting of ranked teams in Kenan Stadium’s 89-year history. It has been more than two years since the Hokies last appeared in the Associated Press top 25, and the last time a ranked Hokies team faced a ranked opponent was in the Sugar Bowl loss to Michigan to end the 2011 season.
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