GatorCountry.com continues its series previewing the players who will make up the 2012 Florida Gators football team this season.
Each day, we’ll count off another scholarship player until the Florida football season officially begins at 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 1 against Bowling Green in The Swamp.
Today, we take a look at senior free safety Josh Evans.
Florida beat out Oklahoma and Pittsburg, among others, to land Evans out of Irvington (N.J.) High in the 2009 signing class. Evans was named the Essex County Player of the Year by the Star-Ledger after starring as a quarterback and safety.
Evans was coached by former NFL quarterback Phil Sims in the New Jersey/Northeast All-Star Game, which he helped win with a huge play at the end of the game (see video clip below). He also won the 110-meter hurdles at the 2009 New Jersey Meet of Champions.
On offense, Evans rushed for more than 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns while completing 123 of 190 passes for 1,856 yards and 18 touchdowns during his final two years as the starting quarterback. As a senior safety, he intercepted seven passes and racked up 78 tackles.
Played on special teams and as a reserve safety as a true freshman, finishing with six tackles, including two against Florida State.
In 2010, Evans began to show flashes of the impact player he is today. He played in all 13 games with starts against Miami, South Florida and Penn State in the Outback Bowl. Had his first interception and returned it 36 yards at Vanderbilt. He finished the season with 14 total tackles.
Last season, Evans got off to a slow start due to a hamstring injury, but ended up starting eight games at free safety. He was fifth on the team with 51 tackles, including 2.5 for a loss. He had a career-high 11 tackles vs. South Carolina and five tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery in a 24-17 win against Ohio State in the Gator Bowl.
The 6-foot-1, 201-pounder has all the physical skills to be one of the top free safeties in the league. However, it’s the mental side of the game where he truly excels. He has great instincts — a “ball hawk” as some coaches call it — and breaks on the ball really well.
That said, he’s improved those natural instincts by becoming a student of the game, studying opposing offenses and learning how to read quarterbacks’ and receivers’ tendencies. By all accounts, Evans also worked extra hard to pick up quickly on the new defense that was installed last season.
Evans is solid in run support and one of the team’s best tacklers in the open field. He’s got breakaway-type speed as a straight-line runner and possesses plenty of lateral quickness. He plays fast with a motor that doesn’t stop until the whistle blows.
Last season, Evans — and the rest of the defense for that matter — seemed to lose a little burst late in games as evident by the fact the Gators were outscored 65-0 in the fourth quarter of games during a four-game losing streak. However, stamina and endurance is something that reportedly has improved tremendously after an offseason with new strength and conditioning coordinator Jeff Dillman.
What to Expect
Barring injury, Evans should start every game at free safety. He’s one of two leaders of the secondary along with Matt Elam. Evans has reportedly served as a coach of sorts on the field, helping underclassmen better understand the defense and their roles in it.
Evans and the rest of the secondary will need to make more plays in 2012 than in 2011, especially in the turnover department. The team only intercepted six passes last season, and Evans has two for his career. He dropped a few potential interceptions, but wasn’t the only one. It was a weak spot, and word is there has been extra attention paid to that in drills during fall camp.
In mid-November of last season, Evans revealed he had been playing with a sore hamstring he had injured late in the 2011 fall camp. He only played the final few games of 2011 at 100 percent, so it’ll be interesting to see how much more of an impact he can make if he stays healthy for an entire season.
Here’s the clip from Josh Evans’ high school days, including the game-winning play in the NJ/NE All-Star Game: