The Anatomy of a Hit
Sept. 28, 2001
By Trent Packer
As a safety on the Virginia football team, Jerton Evans’ life on the football field is a bit like being stranded on a desert island. He is out there all alone, with nothing between him and the end zone but acres of empty real estate. If a defensive back loses track of his man, it is Evans’ responsibility to cover for him. And if a tight end or running back sneaks out of the backfield unaccounted for, Evans and his fellow safeties are the only men who can keep him from putting six points on the scoreboard in a hurry.
The possibility that a big hit lurks just around the corner, however, is more than enough reward for the pressure Evans and most safeties are brought to bear.
“As soon as you come up to make that big hit, it’s unbelievable,” Evans says. “That’s the greatest feeling in the world.”
Evans and his fellow Cavalier safeties pride themselves on their ability to sneak in and lay a monstrous hit on an unsuspecting ball carrier. In fact, Evans contends that safeties react to seeing the ball like a bull who spots red.
“[Fellow UVa safeties Shernard] Newby and Chris (Williams) and I consider ourselves head hunters because as soon as we see the ball we are full speed,” Evans says. “They don’t see us. The first thing a running back sees is the lineman, and then the linebackers. They don’t see the safeties coming up.”
How does Evans prepare himself and his victim-to-be for the inevitable bone-crunching hit?
“Actually, I’m talking to the guy,” Evans says, though he’s reluctant to admit exactly what he imparts to the man on the receiving end of the hit. “Nothing you can print.”Evans is no stranger to lining up opponents for jarring tackles. He burst onto the scene in 1999 as a true freshman, earning a starting slot and turning in one of the most prolific rookie seasons in school history. Evans’ 44 tackles in ’99 are the most all-time by a true freshman defensive back at UVa. His four interceptions led all ACC rookies and were the most by a UVa true freshman since ’86. Evans earned freshman All-America honors for his performance that season.
Evans followed up his outstanding rookie campaign by leading all Cavalier defensive backs in tackles as a sophomore in 2000. His 50 tackles last fall gave him 94 for his career, which led all Virginia defensive backs heading into this season.With the return of standout Chris Williams (who sat out the 2000 season due to personal reasons) in 2001, Evans has come off the bench in the first two games of the ’01 campaign. Not starting has not limited Evans’ abilitity to make a big play, nor has it tempered his excitement about the 2001 season. With new defensive coordinator Al Golden manning the controls this year, Evans has seen a number of new formations and schemes added to Virginia’s defensive playbook.
“We have so many multiple formations and so many things we can throw at people,” Evans says. “The fact that we haven’t shown people everything that we have is kind of scary.”
In fact, Evans appears to be as excited as ever about the new defensive look. He explains that he is especially excited by the myriad possibilities a new defense presents.
“My favorite thing about the defense is that we have so many options,” Evans says. “There isn’t just one defense we have to look forward to, we have tons of defenses.”
Even with the various defenses Evans and his teammates are now armed with, Evans contends that his responsibilities are largely the same as they were prior to the changes. Even before Golden and his staff made their defensive adjustments —- such as using three defensive linemen instead of four and four linebackers instead of three — Evans’ position demanded he be able to constantly adjust his mindset.
“You have different responsibilities in different defenses, so it’s not like it’s changed drastically,” Evans says.
The continuity in Evans’ responsibilities means that fans can continue to see big things from the third-year safety, including the monstrous hits UVa’s faithful have grown accustomed to witnessing.