By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY – Joe Evans was in fifth grade when his father took him to an Iowa-Iowa State football game, a memory he still cherishes to this day, but not for what happened on the field, but for what happened in the stands.
It was the first time that Evans, who grew up in Ames as a Hawkeye fan, and now plays defensive end for the Iowa football team, had attended an Iowa-Iowa State game. He was loving every moment, sitting next to his father, a former Iowa football player, and talking about football, and about whatever else came up while cheering on the Hawkeyes.
“It was just me and him,” Evans said on Tuesday. “I’m not sure where my brother was. But he took me and we were sitting up in the stands. I had on my Iowa gear and I was all excited, a big rivalry. And I remember my dad looking down at the field and he said, that’s going to be you some day. He pointed at the Iowa team, and that’s something that I’ll never forget.”
Evans, a former walk-on, is proof that you can live amongst the enemy and still be liked and respected.
He speaks very fondly about growing up in Ames, and about playing sports for Ames High School, where he was a star quarterback and a defensive standout.
Evans will return to his hometown on Saturday when No. 10 Iowa faces ninth-ranked Iowa State at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames. It’ll mark the first time that both teams will face each while ranked.
His high school alma mater also faces Iowa City High in football on Friday, and while Evans cherishes every moment he spends as an Iowa football player, and will forever be a Hawkeye fan, he still has strong ties to Ames, including to his former high school football team.
“I’ll be a big Ames Little Cyclone fan on Friday,” Evans said proudly on Tuesday.
Other than being from Ames, Evans is typical for an Iowa football player under Kirk Ferentz in so many ways.
He was lightly recruited, and didn’t project as a Division I quarterback despite having passed for 2,438 yards and 25 touchdowns as a senior.
But Evans was tough and versatile, and had a frame that could take on more weight, ideal for a defensive end or linebacker in the eyes of the Iowa defensive coaches.
His father, Spence Evans, also played football for Iowa, and Joe Evans was determined to follow in his father’s footsteps.
He found a home at defensive end after having switched from linebacker in 2019 spring practice.
And like so many other position switches under Kirk Ferentz, both the player and the team have benefitted.
Evans saw action in all eight games last season, and also played in eight games as a redshirt freshman in 2019.
He is now a key part of the rotation at defensive end, and also on scholarship, pretty much what his father had predicted.
“Just making my family proud is a big thing for me,” Evans said. “And ever since I could remember I’ve always wanted to play for Iowa. That’s been my dream, and that’s been what I’ve wanted to do. So whatever steps I could take to get here that’s what I was going to do.
“And my dad’s comment, I’ve always known my dad has been proud of me. He’s done a good job of letting me know that. And then being able to get here and really make my family proud means the world to me.”
The rivalry between Iowa and Iowa State can be heated and nasty at times, especially when it comes to football.
But for Evans, growing up in Ames was a positive experience. His love for the Hawkeyes was well known, but he was also a Little Cyclone, and an important part of the community.
When Evans decided to play football for Iowa, it hardly came as a surprise to the people in Ames. They were happy for him and fully supportive because they knew he was pursuing a life-long dream.
“I had a real good support group back in Ames,” Evans said. “Everyone was happy for me, and everyone just wanted to see me do well and had faith in me, and stuff like that. When I made the decision a lot of people expected it just because I had been an Iowa fan.”
Evans came to Iowa with a plan for how he wanted his career to play out.
He was determined to earn a scholarship, partly as a way to say thanks to his family.
“Of course, when I came to Iowa I set some goals for myself,” Evans said. “My first goal was to earn a scholarship. I came in here as a walk-on and I wanted to earn a scholarship. My family was able to help me pay for college and I wanted to do anything I could to help them financially. So my first goal was to earn a scholarship and my next goal was to get on the field and earn playing time. And my goals just keep going and going.”
Evans’ father is the Principal at Tipton High School, and previously held the same position for nine years at Ames High School. Spence Evans said when he resigned from his job in Ames in 2019 that he wanted to be closer to his three children, who were all students at the University of Iowa.
Tipton is about 25 miles from the Iowa campus.
“Family is very important to me,” Joe Evans said. “I wouldn’t be in this position without them.”
Joe Evans said he never really worried about not achieving his goals because he was too busy trying to reach them.
“I haven’t really thought about it like that,” he said. “I ‘ve just kind of lived in the moment and taken every day step by step and just tried to live out my dream.”
Evans is pleased with his expanded role on defense, but hardly satisfied.
“Still a work in progress, of course,” he said. “It’s always a work in progress. Just trying to make those daily improvements and just getting better and focusing on myself and being the player that I want to be.”