Adam Stone can describe in detail the exact moment he knew Justin Evans was going to be a star.
At the end of a 28-20 win over South Jones in 2012, Evans made a play that the former Stone High football coach said will forever be etched in his memory.
“He made an interception in the back of the end zone that not many people across the country could make,” Stone said Tuesday. “He jumped up — if you’ve ever seen his hands they’re huge — and grabbed the interception and pulled it down out of the sky.
“The ball was uncatchable for the receiver and he just went up and snagged it.”
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It was one of a number of moments during his prep career that Stone thought Evans might have a shot at a football career. Lightly recruited, however, Evans spent two years honing his craft at nearby Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Perkinston before choosing Texas A&M from a number of SEC suitors.
The Senior Bowl announced Tuesday that Evans will play in the annual event on Jan. 28 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama, the latest of a number of honors and milestones that likely await the Stone County native.
“When you’re watching TV and the kid you had in 10th and 11th grade out here on the practice field practicing kicking PATs because we needed him to (is making plays in big SEC games), how ‘bout that?” Stone said of Evans’ rise in the football world. “You don’t get a chance to coach very many kids like that very often.
“It just makes you feel good that you were able to be a part of their life.”
Evans was a lightly recruited Tomcat. Despite having the measurables and on-field production, Evans was hidden in South Mississippi and overlooked by D1 programs.
“I’ve had very few kids who could do the things he can do. The thing was he could do everything. There was nothing he couldn’t do. He even kicked extra points for us at one point,” said Stone, who mostly used Evans at quarterback, receiver, safety and kick returner. “He could play any position in the game.”
Chad Huff and the Gulf Coast staff took notice and signed Evans. During his next two seasons in Perkinston, Evans developed a following among big-time recruiters.
It was with the Bulldogs that Evans began to develop a reputation — in a good way.
“Justin has tremendous ball skills, runs really, really well and is a physical kid for his size. He’s the type of player who are hard to find; guys who cover just as well in the passing game as they can fit on the run,” Huff said. “I remember how physical he was and how intimidating he was to opponents by the way he tackled and played the game.”
In two seasons with Gulf Coast, Evans racked up 86 tackles, six interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and 13 pass breakups. When it came time to sign, Evans had his pick and ultimately chose the Aggies over Ole Miss, Georgia, Auburn, Texas and others.
“He’s the perfect example what junior college is good for. Justin was a kid who didn’t have a whole lot of looks in football, came to Gulf Coast, played two great years and developed,” Huff said. “He has continued to grow and improve, which all the good ones do. They’re never content with where they are.”
Sometimes on the next level it takes JUCO players a while to get caught up to the pace of the game. Not Evans. He immediately made an impact as a junior in College Station, Texas. He progressed his rep as a big hitter, collecting 78 bone-jarring hits with an interception and three pass breakups.
This season, in the midst of an 85-tackle campaign where he also recorded five tackles for loss, 10 passes defended and four interceptions, Evans earned quite the endorsement from one of his coaches.
“I’m not sure that he’s not as good as any safety we’ve ever coached,” said TAMU defensive coordinator John Chavis, who has been coaching since 1979.
“To have said that,” Stone added, “Think about all of the guys he’s seen.”
At one point, many thought Evans could make a career in professional baseball. Now it looks like he’s got big-time football aspirations. After the Senior Bowl, Evans will likely be one of the first safeties selected in the upcoming NFL Draft.
CBS Sports ranks Evans as the 61st overall player in the draft class and the second-best safety. The site projects Evans to be a second-round pick, but with a strong Senior Bowl and combine showing, plus his versatility, don’t be surprised to see the 6-foot-, 200-pound Evans climb into the late first round.
Regardless of where he goes, Evans has plenty of fans cheering for him back in South Mississippi.
“When you’re talking about the NFL Draft, you’re talking about the best players in the world and he’s going to go in the top 32?” Stone said. “He’s going to be a first round pick and depending what people need, he might be the best or second-best DB. The fact you saw him play at a much younger age. Wow.”
When: 1:30 p.m., Jan. 28
Where: Ladd-Peebles Stadium; Mobile, Alabama
TV: NFL Network