Kansas State’s Randall Evans takes improbable path from walk-on to NFL prospect

From a teenager to a young man, Randall Evans has grown a lot since leaving Miami five years ago in pursuit of NFL dreams that landed him in Manhattan, Kan.

The 23-year-old’s firm hand shake and body language reflect confidence; his eyes display maturity and intelligence; the words flow from his mouth in articulate fashion; and his memory is a bottomless pit of information surrounding events dating back to Miami Palmetto High School.

Kansas State’s Randall Evans (15) prior to the Alamo Bowl NCAA college football game against UCLA, Friday, Jan. 2, 2015, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Kansas State’s Randall Evans (15) prior to the Alamo Bowl NCAA college football game against UCLA, Friday, Jan. 2, 2015, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Four interceptions became an early launching pad for the former Kansas State defensive back, who paved a trail through high school, college and to the NFL’s door.

Evans finished his junior year at Miami Palmetto in 2008 with seven interceptions after transferring from South Miami High School.

But The Miami Herald‘s database credited him with three despite evidence to the contrary.

“It’s on the film,” Evans emphatically said. “I had three interceptions in one game against Varela; I had two from South Miami, which is my old high school, we played them and won that game; I had one from Miami Killian, which is actually (current Miami Dolphins running back) Lamar Miller – he played at that school and he was playing that year; and then I had one from Homestead Senior High.”

His former high school coach, Larry Coffey, confirmed in a telephone interview what Evans already knew.

“He did have the seven interceptions,” said Coffey, now the head football coach at Homestead. “That was his junior year, and he led the county with seven interceptions or he was one of the leaders.”

The unfortunate administrative oversight may have played a role in how Division I schools viewed Evans as he entered his senior year in a Miami high school system historically rich with football talent.

Evans produced on the field leading to his final year of high school. He said he recorded his first career interception during his sophomore year at South Miami against current Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who played at Miami Springs Senior High School.

Still, the Division I offers didn’t arrive despite Evans’ success and the lack of attention could arguably be traced to the four missing interceptions.

“The problem I had with my career was I wasn’t receiving the national recognition,” Evans said. “When I look back at the stat sheets of The Miami Herald, it says I had three interceptions in 2008-09, which is false. I had seven interceptions. That made me the leader in 6A class in both Miami-Dade and Broward County.”

While Division II schools expressed interest, Evans already had a goal to play Division I football with a view to make it to the NFL.

Nevertheless, the opportunity didn’t exist and the reality of his situation hammered home on National Signing Day.

“I didn’t go to my school on Signing Day my senior year because I didn’t have a school to sign to,” Evans said. “It was hard not having a team, so I’m feeling down on myself. It was hard times.”

Evans had a decision to make with offers on the table from Division II schools.

He chose to take the hard road in pursuit of a Division I program and used the omission of the four interceptions as incentive, a stance that didn’t surprise Coffey.

“When you’re a competitor and you’re as talented as he is,” Coffey said, “you can use that as fuel.”

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The journey to Manhattan came at the suggestion from a surprising source.

Evans began dating Mychaela Beasley, the sister of former K-State basketball star Michael Beasley, in December 2008. And his girlfriend’s older brother took an interest in Evans’ career path.

“He asked me about my situation with football and I said I don’t have any Division I offers, only Division II schools,” Evans said. “He was like, ‘You both should go to Kansas State University. It’s a nice town where you stay focused and out of trouble.’”

Evans mulled over the suggestion to walk-on at K-State and sought advice from his high school football coach.

He said Coffey, a former USFL running back for the New Jersey Generals, offered the pros and cons of being a walk-on compared to accepting a Division II offer.

But Evans said Coffey ultimately pointed out Evans would have to make the decision.

“He really had that dream of playing at that level and the relationship with her (Mychaela Beasley) was something he was really committed to,” Coffey said. “It worked, so I’m really proud of him.”

The wheels were officially set in motion when Evans said Beasley’s mother reached out to then-K-State assistant basketball coach Dalonte Hill, who in turn contacted the football staff.

“They asked for my film and I sent it,” Evans said. “(Former K-State tight ends coach) Ricky Rahne, once I got in touch with K-State, he was my recruiter. He came down and visited me at the school with my coach and he told me they’re willing to take me in as a walk-on.”

Evans said he liked what he heard and eventually decided to take the chance at K-State.

But his resolution arrived as a package deal with his girlfriend, who would return to Manhattan to pursue a college degree with her boyfriend.

Mychaela Beasley’s decision to join Evans also came free of apprehension.

“I really didn’t have any because I lived here before in 2007, 2008, so I already knew the whole thing and my brother was going to the school,” she said in a telephone interview. “It wasn’t anything that I was leaving. I only lived in Miami for two years, so I’m not originally from there. I’m from Maryland and I’m used to moving around a lot. It wasn’t that big of a deal. I was ready for it.”

She wasn’t alone as being prepared for the next step.

“I was just thankful Bill Snyder and his staff members were giving me the opportunity to play Division I football,” Evans said. “I was just proud of that, just ready to take on this new opportunity, a new lead in my life and a new milestone just to continue to play Division I football, and also work towards my degree.”

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Evans arrived in Manhattan the summer of 2010 before the dormitories were open to incoming students, and he quickly learned the K-State motto of “Family” was more than a word.

“Ricky Rahne got me with a couple of tight ends, like Andre McDonald,” Evans said. “I remember he took me out to eat with his girlfriend, showed me around. I stayed at (Travis) Tannehill’s house for a couple of days until the dorms opened up. That just hit a spot in my heart how the players were. They don’t know me from a can of paint and they were willing to take me in as their little brother, so I just admired K-State from there.”

Kansas State defensive back Randall Evans, right, knocks the ball away from West Virginia wide receiver Daikiel Shorts during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Manhattan, Kan., Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Kansas State defensive back Randall Evans, right, knocks the ball away from West Virginia wide receiver Daikiel Shorts during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Manhattan, Kan., Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Evans was redshirted his freshman season, but that afforded him an opportunity to observe upper classmen defensive backs Tysyn Hartman, Terrance Sweeney, Stephen Harrison and David Garrett.

He also fell under the mentorship of then-defensive backs coach Keith Burns, now the head football coach at Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, Calif.

Evans said most of his practice repetitions came with the third- and fourth-team defense, and Burns rode him the whole time, making Evans perform back-to-back drills during one-on-one sessions against wide receivers.

As his confidence grew with each practice, Evans received repetitions with the scout team against the starters under the watchful eye of Burns.

Still, Evans knew he wasn’t ready to see the field.

“It was all part of the game,” Evans said. “You got to learn it and I just took it as a stepping stone. It was most definitely challenging and overall it helped me be the person who I am today at Kansas State.”

Burns departed K-State after one season to join the Ole Miss coaching staff, and was replaced by Tom Hayes.

But Burns, who has more than 30 years coaching experience, made a lasting impression on Evans, who admits he was “heartbroken” when Burns left.

“Coach Burns actually told me this during one-on-ones in my ear as a freshman because he was on me like a hawk,” Evans said. “Coach told me, ‘I’m going to get you to the league. I’m going to get you to the NFL. All you have to do is listen.’”

As to what stood out about a walk-on player, Burns said in a telephone interview he was struck by Evans’ tenacity.

“To me, it’s more of a competitive fire, competitive instinct and do they have a burning desire to get better,” Burns said. “I saw those traits in Randall. I’ve coached a lot of guys and I know what that looks like. To me, it was trying to get him to the point to mature where he would listen and take hard coaching, and if he did that, he’d have a chance to continue his career.”

Of course, Evans needed to jump start his career by getting on the playing field and he quickly discovered his new position coach was just as hard on him as Burns.

Evans said Hayes would get after him in the meeting room to the point where Evans would churn in frustration, the top of his head turning red.

The underlying message from Hayes, however, served to further ignite Evans’ desire to crack the starting lineup as the Wildcats nickelback.

“He always said, ‘Are you going to wait until you’re a senior to play football or do you want to play right now?’” Evans said. “That’s real. Don’t wait until you’re a senior to start playing and I wanted to play right now.”

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A highly motivated Evans began seeing plenty of action in 2012 and finished his college career with 31 starts, totaling 210 tackles (157 solo), seven interceptions, 35 passes defensed, two sacks, five forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He capped off his senior season in 2014 by being selected first-team All-Big 12 by the conference coaches.

Evans thought he proved himself as a former walk-on player, but there were no invitations to a college football all-star game, the Senior Bowl or the NFL Scouting Combine.

“It made me work harder,” he said. “First-team 2014 All-Big 12, and still no invite. It’s the way life works.”

Evans focused on K-State’s Pro Day workout on March 11, which drew personnel from the Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos, San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cincinnati Bengals, Carolina Panthers, Detroit Lions, Indianapolis Colts, Tampa Buccaneers, Chicago Bears, Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles, Houston Texans, New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans and Washington.

He opened eyes by clocking an unofficial 4.44 40-yard dash, according to NFLDraftScout.com, and that showing projects as tied for the third-best time among cornerbacks at the Combine.

“That was my day to show the NFL guys who Randall Evans is,” the former Wildcat said. “After they saw me, now they can go back in the film room if they thought I was slow on the film. They saw what I ran and what I can do. Hopefully, that will change a lot of teams’ minds.”

Evans said he met with the Raiders after his pro Day workout, adding a “couple of teams,” including the Texans, expressed interest.

He will also return to Miami after accepting an invitation to participate in the Dolphins local Pro Day workout on April 10.

Where Evans fits at the next level could ultimately depend on a team’s defensive coverage system.

K-State’s defense called for mostly zone and off-coverage schemes, and Evans said the defense spent a lot of time in a nickel package to combat the spread offenses found throughout the Big 12.

While Evans played the nickel position, he showed versatility during his college career by playing cornerback and safety.

“Playing all these positions – corner, nickel and safety – has allowed me to know where the soft spots are, where everybody is lining up and covering the zones,” Evans said. “I focus on my teammates. I play within the system. I know I can play in the NFL because I know the game of football.”

The 6-0, 195-pound Evans doesn’t want to be viewed strictly as a zone defensive back, and points out he has experience and is comfortable in press-man coverage.

“It’s not a problem to me because I know how to press,” Evans said. “I know I can use my long arms to work with the receiver, and times during a football game I was willing to just go up and press. It was never a problem with my pressing. I’m big, I can adjust to whatever the team wants – off coverage, press coverage, zone coverage – whatever works. As long as I’m healthy, I can do it all.”

The questions surrounding how Evans would be utilized by an NFL team despite his ideal size apparently affects how analysts view his draft status.

NFLDraftScout.com has Evans’ stock on the rise and currently ranks him as the 24th-best cornerback prospect as a projected fifth- or sixth-round draft pick.

Conversely, Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net has Evans ranked 50th and undrafted.

“He’s got decent instincts,” Pauline said in a telephone interview. “He’s pretty active on the ball. He played disciplined football. Whether it’s against the pass or against the run, he makes a lot of plays and has since his sophomore season, so there’s consistency there.”

Still, Pauline has lingering concerns.

“Despite the fact he ran a 4.4, he doesn’t show great speed on the field, great playing speed,” Pauline said. “He may in straight line, but when he has to turn and run with opponents down the field, he’s a liability in downfield coverage. He didn’t show great range in centerfield or lateral range, either.”

Draft analyst Alex Brown of OptimumScouting.com, which doesn’t rank Evans in its top 65 cornerback prospects, agreed with Pauline.

“He’s sort of a tweener defensive back,” Brown said of Evans in a telephone interview. “He’s not quite fast enough to be an outside guy. I don’t like him as a turn-and-run guy to stay with 4.4 guys as far as on-tape game speed.”

Evans’ first position coach at K-State offered a dissenting opinion when it came to the assessment of Evans’ speed.

Former Wildcats defensive backs coach Keith Burns said it is important to not get caught up on 40-yard dash times, pointing out the game of football is “not a track meet.”

“There are fundamental techniques and skills, and I think Randall plays faster than his 40 time,” Burns said. “I’ve been right more than I’ve been wrong when it came to evaluations of players. I think it’s patience, film study, the ability to break down opponent’s tape and know what’s coming, so you stay one step ahead where a 40 time doesn’t come into play. Randall had that from Day One. You either have it or you don’t, and he’s a guy that has that rare ability to just make plays.”

Burns’ stance is in line with how Evans views workout times, and Evans understands the biggest knock on him entering the Pro Day workout was the perception of his speed.

While he clocked impressive times to potentially alleviate concerns, Evans prefers to let his work ethic and performance on the field do the talking.

“The thing is I’m not a Pro Day guy,” Evans said. “I’m more of a film, a football guy. I know the smarts of the game, I know the game and I know how to play the game. Sometimes you have the Combine athletes, and it’s the opposite of me. I’m not a Combine athlete, but I actually did well at my Pro Day.

In the meantime, Pauline, Brown and Burns agree where Evans will likely have to initially make an impact if given the opportunity at the next level.

“What’s going to help him is he’s going to play well in a dime package and he’ll play well on special teams,” Pauline said. “Special teams will be the difference to whether or not he makes a final roster.”

Brown said Evans has the size a lot of NFL teams covet, but will need to first carve a niche as a third or fourth cornerback.

He adds playing on special teams will allow Evans time to develop regardless of defensive scheme at the next level.

“That’s another factor to consider because you need to look at traits rather than production,” Brown said. “Even though he does have a high volume of tackles, you’d be remiss to just assume he couldn’t do something because you didn’t see it on tape.

Burns said his advice to Evans is to make the most of all repetitions to catch a coaching staff’s eye.

“Take advantage of every opportunity you’re given whether it’s special teams, whatever the role is you have to find your way to make an impression,” Burns said. “What happens when you do that, coaches gravitate to guys like that.”

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Evans graduated from K-State in December 2014 with two bachelor’s degrees, one in sociology with an emphasis in criminology, and the other in American ethnic studies.

The 2014 first-team academic All-Big 12 selection is well-grounded and has a realistic approach to the NFL.

He understands he may go undrafted and have to sign as a free agent, but the experience as a walk-on will help his mentality.

Kansas State defensive back Randall Evans (15) breaks up a pass intended for Baylor's Corey Coleman (1) in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Kansas State defensive back Randall Evans (15) breaks up a pass intended for Baylor’s Corey Coleman (1) in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

“I’ve been in this situation before,” Evans said. “I look at it like I know what I have to do to be in the NFL, and that’s what I’m going to do. Whether it’s special teams to play a position, just got to get me a spot to stay in the NFL.”

Regardless what happens during the NFL Draft on April 30 to May 2, Evans will have the unwavering support of Mychaela Beasley, who has been with him throughout the entire journey even if the three-day event is unfamiliar territory.

Beasley also receives advice on how the draft process works from those closest to her.

“I come from a family of basketball, so this football stuff is really new to me,” Beasley said. “I talk to my mom and she tries to talk to me about how the draft works. It’s not how the NBA Draft works, so I don’t know how the NFL Draft works. And Randall kind of breaks it down for me, ‘You know, it won’t be too bad if my name doesn’t get called because people will want me, so don’t be too sad, don’t be too upset if you don’t see my name go across the screen because it will happen.’ So I don’t think I’ll be too upset because I know that there’s still more to the process.”

Additionally, Evans has the backing of family, including his uncle Terry Doctor, who serves as a defensive line coach at South Miami High School.

“Everybody is just so happy to see him make somebody of himself regardless if it happens,” Doctor said in a telephone interview. “He has his paperwork that he can walk out with it to something else in life if that doesn’t work out for him.”

Evans has a fallback plan if football isn’t the answer, and he sees himself in law enforcement because of the opportunity to help others.

But his short-term goal is playing football on Sundays.

“Right now I’m just focused and looking forward to just keep training because I know I will be somewhere,” he said. “I just want to make sure I’m prepared for that.”

Provided his loved ones allow it, Evans said he prefers to be alone during the draft because he doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him should no team call.

Evans adds he knows he will have to put in more work if he takes the undrafted free-agent route. And he is fine with that approach based on his experiences since he chose to pursue playing football.

The memory of four lost interceptions at Miami Palmetto and walking on at K-State has him ready to take on the challenge.

“The journey does get stressful at times,” Evans said. “But I always think to what Coach Snyder told us: ‘What will you do when adversity hits? Will you quit or keep going?’ So as I embark on this new journey – getting drafted or free agent – I’m still going to keep working hard and keeping that walk-on mentality where I have to earn what I want because it’s not given to me, just like in high school and college.”

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Herbie Teope is the lead beat writer and reporter for ChiefsDigest.com. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @HerbieTeope.

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