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Evans wants, working to be the next Peters

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FB 09_10 UK_UL WEB TeamCoyle 063.jpgDefensive end DeQuin Evans hit the turf during spring practice over the weekend and the collective heart of Big Blue Nation hit the floor.

"I almost quit," new defensive line coach David Turner joked at Monday's practice. "It scared me to death."

Evans will be that important to the success of the Kentucky defensive line this year. Without the services of defensive tackle Corey Peters, who is expected to graduate in the spring and move on to the NFL, UK's defensive line and its football team is in search of a voice and identity that Peters so honorably carried with him.

Evans is expected - and wants - to be one of those guys to fill the void of Peters.

"He's one of our leaders," head coach Joker Phillips said. "I would hate to lose a guy in your first stint as a head coach that early that you're counting on."

Fortunately for UK, Evans avoided a major injury and suffered a minor sprain in his right knee. Phillips said he expects Evans to miss only a few days.

"We got lucky," Phillips said. "He got rolled up on but he rolled out of it. He'll be fine."

Evans panicked during the tumble because of the sheer pain. The trainers told him the sting he felt was from scar tissue he accumulated during a knee injury he suffered during last year's Georgia game.

Although Evans watched from the sidelines Monday with a medial collateral sprain, he was upbeat and exuberant. The chance to build on a promising first season in which he notched six sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss has established confidence in the defensive line in spring practice.

"DeQuin is a kid that shows up every day and is going to go wide open," Turner said. "Sometimes we've got to throttle him down a little bit, but I would rather do that than have to get a guy going. He's taken a leadership role. Being a (junior-college) guy, he's played a year in the league and understands what it takes."

As is the case for most junior-college transfers, there were ups and down in his first year in major college football. Evans provided uncanny quickness on the outside at 6-foot-3, 257 pounds, but he struggled with consistency, the strength of the Southeastern Conference and the complexity of UK's playbook.

Evans learned his lessons in year one and has returned with the goal of becoming UK's playmaker on the defensive line. The senior DE said he is more attentive in film sessions, has embraced a more strenuous work ethic and has even changed his diet.

The Long Beach, Calif., native has even traded in his late-night meals for a chef's hat.

"I switched it up a little bit," Evans said. "Coach is always talking to us about nutrition, so now instead of going out and eating McDonald's and eating anything when I'm hungry, I try to cook my own meals. I bought a couple containers to pack my own lunch to bring to school."

Evan's new diet is light on the fast and fried foods and heavy on the baked foods and greens.

In lieu of the fast food has come an impressive menu of home-cooked meals, especially for a self-described momma's boy who didn't know how to cook before this year.

Evans calls his mother in California routinely to get recipes. His dishes include everything from chicken breast, shrimp, tuna, steaks, egg whites and vegetables. When he uses mayo, it's almost always fat free. Protein is a must, but sugar is almost never preferred. The fryer has been unplugged for the much healthier oven.

"I cheat a little bit on the weekends," Evans said. "You've got to cheat a little bit on the weekends."

Evans' roommate, wide receiver Chris Matthews, has been the biggest beneficiary of Evans' newfound love of culinary.

"Chris can't cook for nothing," Evans said. "He's loving it. He cleans up the kitchen and I cook."

Matthews, who endured the first-year transitions with Evans from Los Angeles Harbor College to UK, said he's noticed a difference in how him and Evans play and feel.

"It keeps us under control with our weight," Matthews said. "I'm not a morning person but we wake up in the morning with a lot more energy. When we're out here running around, we feel like we're on top of our game."

The change in nutrition might seem small, but it is all part of the maturation process of a player who wants to fill a leadership role.

"I'm trying to change everything that I didn't do right last year," Evans said. "Everybody talks about the little things. Nutrition is a little thing but really it's a huge thing. I try to be the first guy in the weight room and the last person out of the weight room and try to carry the team along with me. I'm trying to lead out here by showing them my work ethic."

As for the rest of the line, senior Ricky Lumpkin, who recorded 26 tackles in 2009, is a guy who Phillips believes can make a huge impact at left tackle now that he's been given an opportunity to start. Senior Shane McCord will assume the duties at right tackle vacated by Peters, but don't look past redshirt freshman Mister Cobble, who pressed for playing time as a freshman last year before being redshirted.

Sophomore Taylor Wyndham, who made a name for himself in 2009 with big plays, including a crushing hit on former Heisman winner Tim Tebow, will miss the spring with an injury but is expected to push for the starting position opposite of Evans.

Coaches have also raved about redshirt freshman Tristan Johnson in the early going.

"He likes to play," Turner said. "He's typical of the LaGrange kids. He likes to play the game. He's physical. He loves contact. Right now we've just got to get him going in the right direction, but all the other things in terms of physical play and playing hard and fast are there."

Turner, who has injected a new intensity and fire into the defensive line with his in-your-face passion and coaching, has liked what he's seen in the first four days of spring practice.

"It's going pretty good," Turner said. "Guys are working hard. I think they're adjusting to me now in terms of terminology and what we're teaching. It's just a little different. We still want to be fundamentally sound. I like their enthusiasm. We don't have a big-name guy. There is no Corey Peters this year."

If Evans has his way, you'll hardly notice Peters is gone.

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