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'I feel ready to play'

Nebraska's Evans finally healthy enough to contribute

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Posted: Sunday December 27, 1998 05:46 PM

  Evans: "I always want to play at my highest level. If I'm in shape, I'm healthy and I'm on top of my game, I know I'm going to play well." AP

SAN DIEGO (AP) - Nebraska running back DeAngelo Evans has shown he can burst through narrow openings in the line, turn on his brilliant speed and streak down the sideline into the end zone.

Too bad for the Cornhuskers it's a sight so rarely seen. Now with a bruised tailbone healed at last, the injury-prone Evans hopes to show his stuff in the Holiday Bowl against No. 5 Arizona (11-1).

'I'm in shape, I'm back to myself and I feel ready to play,' he said Sunday after Nebraska's practice.

Correll Buckhalter will start at I-back, the featured position in Nebraska's offense, but coach Frank Solich has indicated Evans will see plenty of action.

'DeAngelo looks good,' Solich said. 'He has been running well and there are no signs of him not being 100 percent. In our minds, he is 100 percent and ready to play.'

That is good news for the No. 14 Huskers (9-3), who sputtered this fall behind injuries to Evans, Buckhalter and reserve running back Dan Alexander - not to mention various injuries to three quarterbacks.

In a 55-7 win over Washington on Sept. 26, Evans rushed for 146 yards and three touchdowns. Returning to action for the first time since 1996, he looked unstoppable in just over 2 1/2 quarters.

The next week against Oklahoma State, Evans bruised his tailbone and was a different player. He finished with 41 yards and had 31 yards the following week against Texas A&M.

The loss in College Station, on Oct. 10, was Evans' last game but the layoff has done nothing to dispell Arizona coach Dick Tomey's respect.

'Losing DeAngelo Evans made a huge difference in their season,' Tomey said. 'He's just a great player. I didn't think they were as hurt by losing (quarterback) Bobby Newcombe as they were losing Evans.'

All of this sets the stage for another big return. After scoring three TDs against Texas in the 1996 Big 12 title game, Evans missed the 1997 season with two surgeries for an abdominal muscle injury.

After a strong performance in last spring's intrasquad game, he hurt a knee in fall camp and missed Nebraska's first three games. But after the long layoff, he came back for Washington in style.

'When I'm healthy, anything's possible,' Evans said. 'I always want to play at my highest level. If I'm in shape, I'm healthy and I'm on top of my game, I know I'm going to play well.'

In Nebraska, where football is like religion and I-backs set the standard for the team's success, Evans has been criticized for not playing through his injuries.

Fans have suggested Evans lacks the durability and heart of players like Mike Rozier, Lawrence Phillips or Ahman Green. Evans' self-confidence also turns off some.

The bottom line, Evans said, is that he measures himself against himself - and he said that standard is high enough for him.

'When your goal is to prove something to people, sometimes that's good, sometimes that's bad,' he said. 'To me, whether things are going well or not, I know I'm a good football player. I know I'll play well.'

Evans made headlines last month when he was arrested in rural Nebraska for failing to pay a traffic citation. He said the matter has been cleared up and he's eager to return to football.

'Having me out has really hurt our offense,' he said. 'I think I bring a lot to this team, and I'm ready to step in and make big plays.'

 
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