Boise State wide receiver Octavius Evans feels like he has a new lease on life thanks to the extra year of eligibility the NCAA offered fall athletes because of the effects COVID-19 had on the 2020 season.
After averaging more than 60 catches a season at Center High in Texas, he showed flashes of big-play ability while appearing in every game his freshman season at Boise State. But injuries and struggles on and off the field have kept him from landing a consistent role in the Broncos’ offense.
Evans is one of eight so-called super seniors expected to take the field Friday for the Broncos’ first spring practice. He said the choice to return was an easy one to make, and he plans to take full advantage of the opportunity.
“I definitely wanted to come back and finish what I started,” he said. “I feel like there’s still a lot I can do here, but I also came back to have fun and have that experience with my friends. You have to cherish those moments because football is going to end someday for everybody.”
Evans caught 15 passes in 14 games as a freshman and hauled in the first two touchdowns of his career. He’s caught just 25 passes in the 21 games he’s appeared in since.
Evans showed flashes of potential in 2019, scoring a touchdown in a loss at BYU and coming down with three passes in the Las Vegas Bowl against Washington.
In 2020, he caught a pair of passes in each of the Broncos’ first two games and hauled in a 21-yard touchdown pass in a win at Air Force. But the 6-foot-1, 204-pound native of Center, Texas, spent the rest of the season on the inactive list. He said Friday that his absence was for personal reasons and that he actually left the team for a short period to get his mental health in order.
“The coaches let me focus on that because they knew I needed to get back on the right track,” Evans said. “It was hard to leave the team for sure, because I love football and I love the guys I came in with, but I felt like I had to be a little selfish in that moment and get my mental health right on all levels to be able to come back and play my last year here.”
Evans didn’t go into further detail, but he said he stepped away last year with the blessing of the previous coaching staff and leaned on wide receivers coach Matt Miller to get through it.
Miller said he’s ecstatic to have Evans back on the field with fellow veteran wide receivers Khalil Shakir and CT Thomas, who have combined for 176 catches the past two seasons.
“He’s a great human being, and he’s got a different type of edge about him,” Miller said of Evans. “He’s ready to get to work.”
Evans enters the season with 40 career receptions for 407 yards and four touchdowns, and he’s ready to write the final chapter of his time on The Blue.
“It could be an end to football for me after this year,” he said. “I want to leave the team better than how I found it.”
‘It will humble you’
Evans’ career hasn’t panned out the way he planned, but he said that’s life, especially on the football field.
“You really have to understand your role to be successful in this game,” Evans said. “It will humble you in all aspects.”
He said he began to understand his role in Boise State’s offense as a sophomore, but he was aware before he ever got to college that the best-laid plans often go awry.
Evans was a star from the moment he lined up in former Center High coach Steve Decker’s spread offense in high school. He hauled in 254 passes for 3,200 yards and 26 touchdowns over the course of a four-year varsity career.
“Octavius was a dominant player, there’s no doubt about that,” Decker said. “He doesn’t take plays off, which says a lot about him, he doesn’t mind getting physical and you don’t see him dropping passes.”
As a senior, Evans led the Roughriders in receptions (66), receiving yards (852) and receiving touchdowns (6), and he came up with the play of the season when his team needed it most. In a game Center had to win to make the playoffs, he caught 11 passes for more than 200 yards and hauled in the game-winning touchdown with 27 seconds left in regulation.
Center needed some more heroics the following week to keep its playoff run alive. Trailing by six and on their opponent’s 45-yard line with six seconds left to play, the Roughriders turned to Evans again. He caught a pass on the final play of the game and made two tacklers miss before he was dragged down 2 yards shy of the goal line.
That’s how his high school career ended.
“Sometimes you come up short. That’s just life,” he said. “I took a lot away from that, like don’t wait until the last play to try to make a play. Play hard the whole game and you won’t have to worry about that.”
What is Evans’ role?
Evans’ role in the Broncos’ offense has been a bit of a mystery.
Shakir is the vertical threat who can stretch the defense and routinely come up with acrobatic catches. Thomas is the shifty slot receiver who creates matchup problems because of his speed, and also regularly moves the chains with big third-down catches.
But where does Evans fit in?
“He’s a guy who can do a little bit of everything,” Miller said. “He has the body to compete for passes in the air and the athleticism to get behind the defense. I really feel like the sky is the limit for him.”
Evans is also a pretty talented blocker, according to Decker, who said that was what caught the attention of former Boise State coach Chris Ross when Evans was a senior in high school.
“He is, by far, the best blocking wide receiver I’ve ever coached, and I’ve been coaching high school football for 30 years,” Decker said.
Next to the touchdown catch that sent Center to the playoffs Evans’ senior year, the play from his career that stands out most to Decker was a block so violent that it drew a 15-yard penalty.
“He drove a kid all the way to the sideline and planted him in textbook fashion,” Decker said. “The only reason they threw the flag was how it looked when the kid fell. I patted (Evans) on the butt and said, ‘Good job. Do the exact same thing the next time you go out there.’”
For Evans, throwing a block to open a hole for a teammate is one of the most satisfying things he’s ever felt on the football field — second only to coming down with a touchdown pass.
He caught the attention of his coaches with some big blocks on special teams in 2019 and was rewarded with the honor of carrying the Dan Paul Hammer out of the tunnel before the Broncos’ home game against Marshall. In the past, the honor has gone to the player with the best block on special teams each week during the season.
Evans couldn’t hide a smile Friday when talking about a block that year that sprung Thomas for a big gain.
“It’s just a love to see other people succeed,” Evans said. “You may not be on the (TV) screen for doing something, but when your teammates are happy and your teammates are coming up to you saying they saw that block, that feels good.”
Evans should get the chance to make plenty of big plays this season in new offensive coordinator Tim Plough’s pass-heavy offense. Regardless, he said he’s going to make the most out of every snap.
“Just being able to come back is an extreme blessing to me,” Evans said. “It’s a blessing for me to be fully healthy and to be able to move how I used to move and to have the chance to leave my legacy.”
WR depth chart
Plough has plenty of weapons to utilize this season, and his past offenses at UC Davis were never shy about going to the air. The Aggies averaged more than 40 pass attempts a game in 2018 and 2019.
Here’s a look at the players the Broncos have back at wide receiver and some new names to keep an eye on.
Khalil Shakir, Jr. — An honorable mention All-Mountain West pick in 2019, Shakir has led the Broncos in receptions each of the past two seasons. Last fall, he led the team with 52 catches for 719 yards and six receiving touchdowns.
CT Thomas, Sr. — Thomas has appeared in 47 games since 2017, and he heads into the season with 117 career receptions for 1,525 yards and 10 touchdowns. Last fall at Air Force, he caught a career-long 75-yard touchdown pass, and his second reception of the game went for a 26-yard score.
Octavius Evans, Sr. — Evans appeared in the first two games of last season before spending the rest of the year on the inactive list. The 6-foot-1, 204-pound native of Center, Texas, heads into his final season with 40 career receptions for 407 yards and four touchdowns.
Next in line
Stefan Cobbs, R-So. — Cobbs has appeared in 13 games the past two seasons, including all seven last fall. He heads into the season with just seven career receptions, and he scored his first collegiate touchdown on a screen pass against Portland State in 2019.
Billy Bowens, R-So. — Bowens appeared in six of the Broncos’ seven games last season, finishing with five catches for 30 yards. The former three-star recruit caught his first career pass last fall in the Broncos’ win at Hawaii.
Shea Whiting, R-Fr. — Whiting appeared in three games in 2019 and two last season, but he has yet to record a catch. The former three-star recruit caught 74 passes for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns during his final two seasons at Alief Taylor High School in Texas.
LaTrell Caples, Fr. — One of the highlights of Boise State’s 2020 recruiting class, Caples didn’t see the field last season, but he earned a reputation as a big-play threat in high school, catching 59 passes for 1,021 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior at Lancaster High in Texas.
Eric McAlister, Fr. — One of several talented wide receivers in this year’s recruiting class, McAlister (6-3, 180) has the size and athleticism to see the field early. He racked up 3,367 yards and 48 touchdowns through the air in three seasons at Azle High in Texas.