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He was the second receiver drafted in 2014, behind Sammy Watkins and ahead of Odell Beckham Jr., and he is the only one of them, the only one in NFL history, to record seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to start his career.
There were times across his life, starting when he was a 9-year-old boy when his uncle shot and murdered his father, and certainly during the dog days as a Buc, when he never could have imagined catching passes from Tom Brady in a Super Bowl, but here stands Mike Evans now, an inspirational story of triumph over tragedy.
There is a video on mikeevansofficial.com of Evans recalling his nightmare past, growing up dirt poor, unaware that his father Mickey was abusive toward his mother Heather Kilgore, growing up all those years missing his father.
“I was hurting for a long time,” Evans said. “I just stopped crying about when I got to college [at Texas A&M], I think it was my last time I cried about it. I was thinking about my daddy one time when I wished that he could have [seen] me … but he loved sports, and he was the reason that I wanted to play sports in the get-go.”
Evans grew up to be a man any father would be proud of, the Bucs’ Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee for the second straight year, his Mike Evans Family Foundation providing hope for underprivileged kids who deserve a better life and women and families who are victims of domestic violence.
But for the three biggest hours of his football life on his field dreams that is Raymond James Stadium, Evans (70-1,006-13 TDs) will proudly don his No. 13 and transform into Monster Mike, and for those three hours against the Chiefs, it is better to receive than to give for him.
And as Brady prepares to capture his record seventh Super Bowl championship, he can take it from the men who have played against Evans in the NFL and coached him at Ball High School in Galveston, Texas, how fortunate he is to be throwing to him, even though the GOAT already knows.
“I played against Mike a couple of times in my career, and I always felt like — probably because he’s in Tampa, and it’s small market — but I always felt like he was a top-tier receiver who may not be getting his due,” Giants safety Logan Ryan told The Post. “He’s legit [6-foot-5], he high-points the ball, so he’s big and he plays big, and I think the last couple of years he’s found the ability to … he’s faster than you think, he has the ability to run past people. “And he always does a good job of — sorta like Brandon Marshall — of being physical at the line of scrimmage and throwing DBs by. He’s always had that, but I just feel like he’s developed his speed and it’s really made him a dangerous deep threat.”
Giants cornerback James Bradberry considers Evans in a group with Julio Jones and Mike Thomas as the toughest trio of wideouts he had faced.
“The guy’s 6-5, he runs very fluently, has good body control down the field at the point of attack,” Bradberry told The Post. “He’s stronger than people realize. He’s tough to bring down after he catches the ball.”
Bradberry first played against Evans as a rookie and held his own. Evans caught four passes for 99 yards in the 2015 regular-season finale. “I had to bring my ‘A’ game each and every snap, ’cause he was looking to try to dominate me and bully me the whole game.”
Bradberry, who in his first year as a Giant made the Pro Bowl, was beaten by Evans (5-55-1 TD) for an 8-yard TD in the fourth quarter of the Bucs’ 25-23 win in Week 8. “He was able to fight through the contact that I presented him,” Bradberry said.
Jerald Temple was Evans’ high school basketball coach. Evans joked this week that he was a poor man’s Jimmy Butler. Evans was all-state. “Our very first game of his senior year, he got his braces put on, and because of it, the doctor said no physical activities,” Temple recalled, “and it was just killing him. So I finally got his mother’s permission, and we got him a mouth guard, and he probably had 26 points and 20 rebounds. And that was our first game being ranked No. 1 in Texas.”
David Suggs was Evans’ high school football coach. Evans resisted pleas to play his junior year before giving the sport a try as a senior.
“At one point his senior year, we had to move him to the secondary and play free safety for us,” Suggs recalled, “and he ended up leading the secondary in interceptions.”
Suggs remembers Evans as a fierce competitor.
“It was a nice nine route down the sideline, and he made a real good extension and caught it and carried it into the end zone. … It was poetry in motion,” Suggs said.
Evans kept the horrors of his family circumstance to himself.
“Mike never mentioned it all,” Temple said. “I never heard him mention it to anybody, any form or way.”
Suggs: “He didn’t talk to me personally about it. Through some other coaches on the staff, they informed me of what had taken place.”
Evans is thankful for how sports helped him through the turmoil of his youth and grateful for the mentors who guided him and helped mold him.
“It was tough, and a lot of people have tough stories around the world,” Evans told the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday. “It’s just that you can’t give up. There’s no excuse to give up the hand you’re dealt. You’ve just got to keep fighting and make something positive out of it.”
Suggs will be watching Super Bowl 2021 from his home. Temple will be at the game. “The receiver room, we have to play well, and I have to play my best game as well,” Evans said.
He is married (wife Ashli) with three children (Ariah Lynn, Amari Thomas and Mackenzie).
“My family is everything,” Evans said. “They’re the reason why I do what I do. They’ve helped me get to this position. Without them, I would not be here. I love my mom, my daughter, my sister, my niece. They’ll be at the game this Sunday. They’re so excited to be here. My family means everything to me. And my city, Galveston, means everything to me. I’m proud to be representing my city and my family in one of the biggest games.”
They should be proud he is representing them.
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