The story of Craig Evans: Why he may never play for Oregon State
Craig Evans was a four-star recruit out of Yuma (Ariz.) Arizona Western College in the class of 2017 and was Gary Andersen's most anticipated recruit.
However, Evans didn't see the field this past fall, and he may never play a down in Reser Stadium.
The exact details of why Evans didn't play in 2017 have not been made public, but Evans opened up to BeaversEdge.com.
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Evans signed with Michigan State in the class of 2014 and redshirted his first season. As a redshirt freshman in 2015, Evans recorded 21 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and a sack on his way to earning all-Big 10 freshman honors.
In the spring before Evans' redshirt sophomore season, he failed a drug test due to marijuana in his system, which resulted in a six game suspension from the NCAA.
Evans reports that Tennessee and others would have taken him as a transfer, but instead of having to sit out a year, he wanted to play a year of junior college football.
So Evans played the 2016 season at Arizona Western College and had several schools pursue him as a junior college recruit, and they did so knowing that he'd have to sit out the first six games of the 2017 season.
"The schools [recruiting me] knew. I knew leaving Michigan State that those six games were going to follow me," Evans said. "I left Michigan State to bypass the year [of ineligibility] going from big time to big time. That's why I went to JuCo, but I didn't want to sit the year and a half.
"Every school recruiting me knew I had to sit the six games, but they didn't care about that. They were either going to try to appeal it or say 'To hell with it' and have me sit the six games. I'd still have a year and a half left. That's kind of how everybody viewed it."
Evans signed with Oregon State in December of 2016 and was supposed to enroll in January, but he didn't make it to Corvallis until several months afterwards. It wasn't just the NCAA suspension that Evans had to overcome. He had to finish matters in the classroom as well.
Evans didn't have his associates degree needed to be academically eligible to enroll at Oregon State, so last December, he moved back to Wisconsin. Evans passed a couple of classes that he needed to take, but still had to finish an English and a math class.
Evans passed the English class he needed but he failed math. The math class was an online course taken at a different junior college, and a class that students take and work at their own pace.
"The bull**** happened," Evans said. "[My teacher] said I finished it too fast or whatever the case was. I fell short in the math, and that was it."
Evans is currently re-enrolled in the math class in the case that he does choose to play for Oregon State next season.
"I'm going to finish it middle of January or early February because the spring term [at OSU] doesn't start until April,” said Evans.
However, he'd still have to sit out the first six games of the 2018 season after already missing the 2017 season due to academics. That's an option that Evans isn't in love with.
"Most definitely. It's an option, but I'm not really even trying to go that route," explained Evans. "To sit six games when it's my senior year, and I've already missed this much, I'm trying to go somewhere and play my whole year. I'm just weighing out my options. Who knows man."
Evans currently has three options to reach his ultimate goal of playing in the National Football League.
1. Finish the math class, play spring ball, miss the first six games of 2018, and play the final six games at Oregon State.
"I'm balancing that a lot," said Evans. "I could sit the six games and dominate my last six games, but I don't know man. I know myself. I don't know if I can bear sitting behind players through the six games. I'm an emotional guy; I let a lot of emotions play through me. I don't even know if I can do that -- bear through it. I've been doing it for the past two years, and now I have to do it my last year?
"I'd love to play for the Beavers. I can't shut that completely out even though I'd hate to go through the process and sit out the six games. I'm definitely considering staying."
2. Leave Oregon State and play at the NAIA level, which he has no suspension from. Evans could even play at the NAIA school for two seasons if he wanted to.
"I've been talking to agents and they're saying that I can definitely go to the NAIA level, and I'd just have to be a creature," Evans said.
3. Declare for the 2018 NFL Draft.
"I spoke with one of my guys, and he said I had a 5th round grade based off what I did at Michigan State," Evans explained. "Then there's the undrafted free agent route, making the practice squad. Honestly, it's just about getting an opportunity. Agents were telling me that I'm a guy that just needs an opportunity."
Currently, Evans is leaning towards the draft.
"Man, I'm leaning towards calling it quits [with college]. But you know me man, I think long and hard, and I'm in no rush to make a decision," he said. "I know I'll make the right decision. Lately, I've been thinking about the draft. I really think it's time for me to go get it and put my body to the max."
Whoever OSU hires as their next head coach will obviously play a factor in Evans' decision as well. The new coach could even come in and not want to deal with Evans at all.
"If my boy, coach [Cory] Hall, is still on the staff, D-coordinator or even DB coach, if he's still on the staff and a new coach comes in, and I'm able to vibe with him and he likes me, there's a possibility that I'd stay," said Evans. "But it's all a toss-up right now. If I had to make a decision today, it'd probably be to declare."
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Evans originally came to Oregon State in large part due to his relationship with former Beaver head coach Gary Andersen. Andersen and Evans knew each other well when Evans was a high school recruit.
While Andersen was still at OSU, he worked hard, along with Jason Thomas, the assistant athletic director for student-athlete development, and OSU's compliance team, to appeal the six game suspension that Evans was given by the NCAA.
"When coach Andersen was here, he was after it. He was pissed off," said Evans. "He was the one that was really pushing it. The guys in compliance were really pushing it when coach A was here.
"We put the appeal into place in June or July - way before fall camp, but I don't think we got any word back until [around mid-September], but coach A said that we'd keep fighting. We ended up having a conference call with me, coach A, Jason Thomas, compliance and the NCAA. I was telling them my story, and they literally told me that they couldn't render a decision. They felt like they didn't have the power to 'make a decision' on my case, at that time."
It wasn't until November, a month after Andersen left Oregon State, that Evans got the final word that the NCAA would not be granting Evans the appeal.
Evans felt that once Andersen left, Oregon State gave up on the appeal process. Evans asked OSU's compliance department one day about his appeal, and they revealed to him that the decision had already been made, but they didn't even tell Evans about the decision until Evans asked about it.
"I checked in with the compliance people, and they told me that the NCAA denied [the appeal] and isn't trying to hear me again," Evans said.
When going through the appeal process, Andersen brought up the case of Will Grier, according to Evans.
At the University of Florida, Grier was tested positive for performance enhancing drugs via an over-the-counter supplement, which resulted a yearlong suspension. According to reports, Grier made an honest mistake by taking the supplement.
The NCAA granted his appeal. He transferred from Florida to West Virginia, sat out one year due to transfer rules, and then was able to play in 2017 with the suspension being lifted.
"He had a year suspension. He didn't even fail a weed test. He basically found the loophole in the NCAA," Evans said. "He went there, sat the whole season, which was the transfer season, and he was supposed to sit this season too. But after he sat the one season, he appealed it, and they granted it. So I'm like, 'Wait, what? You're telling me I could have went from Michigan State to Tennessee, sat out a year, and appealed it and be good this year?' They didn't really have anything to say.
"So the NCAA rule claims that for your suspension to be served, you have to be at an NCAA institution, but for your eligibility clock to keep ticking, you don't have to be at an NCAA institution? How is that right?"
In talking with one West Virginia source, it appears that a big difference between Evans situation with Grier was that Grier had great academic progress in the classroom while sitting out the 2016 season. Evans didn't have much success though.
However, Evans could have used more sympathy from the NCAA. After all, this is a near two-year-old suspension, and Evans has done a lot to turn things around since.
Since Evans isn't enrolled at OSU, he's not able to be on scholarship. He's working at a car dealership in the Corvallis area full-time to provide for himself, which is something Evans is used to.
"I'm putting the hours in. I go in at like six or seven -- Monday through Friday -- and sometimes on the weekend if I want to," said Evans. "My roommate is pretty good people so we got it all worked out. I'm out here and everything is good. I've been taking care of myself since I was 16."
Evans grew up in Jackson, Mississippi with his aunt, her three kids, and Evans' brother and sister. When Evans was young, his mother left him, and he didn't know his father.
Evans' aunt, Toya Bolden, is a role model in his life.
"She bent over backwards for me. My hat goes off to her. She's the reason I am who I am," Evans explained. "Whenever I question whether or not I should quit what I'm doing, I ask if she would've quit on us.
"I mean, man, she was a single parent for six kids -- four boys, two girls. I'm the smallest and the youngest, imagine that. All of my brothers are at least 6-foot-8. It was hard - my childhood in Jackson, Mississippi. It was hard."
Evans' aunt moved from Mississippi to Texas, and that's when Evans moved up to Sun Prairie, Wisconsin to live with one of his brothers. Evans cherishes his time in the state of Wisconsin and at Sun Prairie H.S.
"I don't know where I'd be if I would've stayed in Mississippi," Evans said.
The future of Craig Evans is unclear, but there's one things that's for certain -- Evans will keep his chin up.
"I'm fine man," he said. "It threw me off for a minute, but I won't ever question God. It's all just another obstacle, and I'm built for it. You can't stop what's destined. Emotionally, I'm straight. My mental toughness is too strong.
"The return is going to be epic."