ATHENS — For years Demetric Evans has talked the talk. Now he’s ready to walk the walk.
The graduation walk, specifically.
It has been 11 years almost exactly since Evans last attended classes at UGA and played football for the Georgia Bulldogs. A defensive end, he bolted town immediately following his senior season and spent nine years playing ball in the NFL. But since leaving Athens in December of 2000, Evans vowed to return one day to walk in graduation ceremonies.
Today, Evans will be in Stegeman Coliseum along with nine other current and former football players, 27 student-athletes overall and more than 1,700 fellow graduates to do just that. Evans has earned his UGA degree in child and family development from the College of Family & Consumer Sciences.
“It’s something I always expected to do, but it’s a good thing I’m getting it behind me now,” said Evans, a native of Haynesville, La.
For Evans, getting here was no small undertaking, literally and figurative. Start with the fact that he currently resides in Walnut Creek, Calif. Then there was that whole matter of finding and enrolling in classes and that would transfer to UGA.
For that, Evans offers a special thanks to Connie Rash, the director of student services for UGA’s College of Family & Consumer Sciences.
Evans completed the coursework he needed – about one year’s worth — at San Jose State. On Thursday, Evans flew to Atlanta from San Francisco along with his wife and young son and a small entourage of people that included his financial adviser, his agent and some friends and family.
“I’ve got a gang of people who are going to be there,” he said proudly. “We’re going to have a house full.”
Asked why he’d go to such trouble and expense, Evans laughed.
“Well, it’s something that I earned,” he said. “It’s something that I promised myself when I was in high school being recruited to become a college athlete. Playing football is great. But that’s the only thing that would empower me as an individual, a degree.”
It’s not as though Evans is desperate for a job. His last contract with the San Francisco 49ers, which expired at the end of the 2010 season, paid him $3.8 million. Also, his wife, Dr. Aungel Evans, is an OB-GYN practicing medicine in California. They live on the West Coast but have a permanent residence is in Dallas, Texas.
But then again, Evans has always done the unexpected. When he graduated from Haynesville High in rural Louisiana as one of the top prospects in the state, he signed with Georgia rather than follow the herd to LSU. With the Bulldogs, he started only three games and wasn’t given much of a chance in the NFL. But he made the Dallas Cowboys’ roster as an undrafted free agent and played nine NFL seasons.
Effectively retired now at age 32, Evans many expected him to kick back and play a lot of golf. Instead, he has chose to finish his undergrad work and now is contemplating pursuing a Masters.
“I want to change people’s lives, because I grew up in a small town in a single-parent home where getting a college degree and playing in the NFL seemed unachievable,” Evans said. “Not only have I finished my degree, but I played in the NFL for three times the life expectancy of the average player. I’m an example of what hard work and dedication can bring.”
While in the NFL, Evans founded the “92 Blessings Foundation.” Named for the jersey he wore most of his football career, he would select 92 families each to assist with food and gifts during the holidays.
Now he envisions a new mission.
“I’m hoping to improve the literacy rate,” he said. “I want to raise funds to start an after-school program in my hometown for under-privileged kids, and all kids really, to prepare for the ACT and SAT and to get tutoring for classes they’re struggling in so they can increase their GPA and compete for college scholarships.”
As for his own future, Evans is not sure yet exactly what’s in store.
“That’s the blessing of it, that I don’t have to rush to figure out what’s next,” Evans said. “My time is up in the NFL. I enjoyed each moment and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But now it’s on to a new adventure.”
– Chip Towers