Iowa Football

Iowa's Joe Evans goes from unknown walk-on linebacker to scholarship, pass-rushing end

Iowa defensive end Joe Evans rushes up field during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Michigan St
Iowa defensive end Joe Evans rushes up field during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Michigan State, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa won 49-7. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

This was about as matter of fact as you could get.

Iowa’s football team was going through a Monday morning practice here fairly recently. The Hawkeyes specifically were working on kickoffs.

Joe Evans was attentive from the sideline, watching what was going on. Head coach Kirk Ferentz came over and sidled up next to him.

“He said ‘Joe, how’s your day going?’” the sophomore defensive end remembered. “I was like ‘It’s going great. How are you, Coach?’ He said ‘Just want to let you know you got put on scholarship.’”

And that was it. Another Iowa walk-on success story.

“My initial reaction was I immediately thought about my parents,” Evans said. “I’ll try not to get emotional here, but they’ve been with me through everything. They let me go after my dreams. That was my initial thought. Then my next thought was to thank every coach here. They gave me the opportunity to come here and showcase my skills.”

Evans was a quarterback and linebacker at Ames High School, where his father, Spence, was principal. Spence Evans played football at Iowa, and when former Hawkeye assistant coach Reese Morgan recruited Joe and asked him to come to Iowa City and walk on, the decision was done.

Spence and Abby Evans ultimately decided to move to Iowa City, where their three kids were going to college. Spence Evans took the principal job at Tipton High School.

“My mom works at home, and she had texted me that morning ‘Hey, Joe, do you want the car today?’ I told her sure, that’d be awesome to get the car just to use it,” Evans said. “So she came and picked me up (after practice), my dad was at home, too. I had to keep quiet. I was acting kind of strange, kind of smiling. Ended up getting home, and they were like ‘How was practice today?’ I was like ‘It was good. And I also got put on scholarship.’ I’ve never seen my mom that excited. She started tearing up. My dad did as well. And, obviously, I did.”

Evans redshirted as a true freshman linebacker in 2018, and got his break that following spring. Iowa had some injuries on the defensive line, was short on depth during spring ball, so Evans was asked by linebackers coach Seth Wallace if he wanted to try defensive end.

There you go. Evans played in eight games last season and has been a rotation guy this season, mostly as a pass rush specialist. He leads Iowa with four quarterback hurries, has seven total tackles, two for loss, and a sack.

He’s not big, checking in at 6-foot-2 and 248 pounds, but has quickness and a high motor. He, wide receiver/punt returner Charlie Jones and fullback Monte Pottebaum all were recently awarded scholarships by Iowa.

“If you’re going to be a walk-on, I think this is the best place to go. By far, hands downs,” Evans said. “I didn’t get treated any differently here. You don’t even know here who is on scholarship, or who is a walk-on. From my aspect, too, I knew I needed to develop as a player, and I knew Iowa was going to be my number one school.”

Evans has been part of a defensive front that has been one of the Big Ten Conference’s best this season. Daviyon Nixon, Zacn VanValkenberg and Chauncey Golston were named all-conference, with Nixon the league’s Defensive Player of the Year and Defensive Lineman of the Year.

“We just wanted to improve every day, and I think we’re doing a good job of that,” Evans said.

No. 15 Iowa (6-2) is scheduled to play Missouri (5-5) in Wednesday’s Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn. (3 p.m., ESPN). After a pause because of a coronavirus outbreak, the Hawkeyes got back to practicing Saturday.

Nixon, by the way, was shown in photos shared on Iowa’s football Twitter account, participating in workouts. A potential first-round NFL draft pick, there has been speculation he’d opt of the bowl.

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Wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette announced earlier in the week he would skip the Music City Bowl to concentrate on preparing for the NFL Draft.

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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