Known for its sunshine, relaxed lifestyle, oranges and churning out what has turned into being a football factory, Florida is a treasure-trove of talent on the gridiron, but in this case, there’s one that got away.
Appalachian State running back Darrynton Evans quickly went from being a little known 2-star athlete to 2019 Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year. He made the full-time transition to running back during the middle of his true freshman season. Evans, buried on the depth chart behind plenty of his counterparts, continued to stay level headed, but a knee injury during his sophomore campaign forced doubt to creep in.
When he returned as a redshirt sophomore, Evans was in a similar spot prior to his injury, but it was injuries that forced him into action during the fifth game of the season. Little did the coaching staff known that a future star was emerging. As a new starter, Evans finished with a conference-leading 1,187 rushing yards and nine total touchdowns — it was the beginning of a historic career.
As a redshirt junior, Evans was unstoppable. He totaled with the fourth-most rushing yards in a single-season (1,480) and tied a Sun Belt record with 24 total touchdowns (18 rushing, five receiving and one kickoff return).
I sat down with the former Mountaineers standout to reflect on his Florida upbringing, how he discovered Boone, North Carolina, and his NFL outlook going forward.
The following transcript has been edited for clarity.
Question: You' re a Florida guy (Oak Hill to be exact) — growing up in a state that's known for football, what is it like from a competitive standpoint?
Evans: It's great. When you go to a school outside of Florida and you have teammates that are from the same area, you bring that same type of culture to whatever college team that you're at. I know in particular, for us, and a lot of teams across the country, they call Florida "the crib," which is how we relate to each other and where we're from. It's just that type of bond. We bring that type of swagger from down here and you just do what you gotta do.
Q: Tell me a little bit about your upbringing and how you got involved in football?
E: Growing up, I really played all sports. I did basketball, football, baseball and ran track. I kind of was everywhere. My family is really athletic on both sides. My father was an All-American baseball player at Bethune-Cookman and was drafted, but he decided not to play in the minors. But my uncle on his side, he played for the Philadelphia Phillies. On my mom side, she ran track, so I kind of have it good.
Q: With there being so many notable football programs in the state, how did you manage to get out of it and attend school outside of the state?
E: Honestly, I had a lot of in-state teams looking at me, but only one offered me and that was South Florida. Miami and Florida State didn't feel that I was an ideal fit because I wasn't the 6-foot-1, 190-pound running back. [Florida Atlantic University] and [Florida International University] wanted me to take an official visit, but I didn't feel the need to without an official offer.
Q: When I was in college, we actually played against Appalachian State, so I've been to Boone before. I know it was a bit of a culture shock for you going from Florida to there. Tell me a little bit about that experience.
E: My first time going to App. was on my official visit. Being from Florida, that was my very first time seeing snow. Over time you get used to it though. It's different from Florida, but it's a good different. Everything is still family. Going from the beach to the mountains was obviously different, but it's just something that you have to embrace. There aren’t too many distractions either. That's a good thing and the reason why the program is so good. You're isolated from everybody else.
Q: Let's talk about your career now. What makes playing running back so special to you?
E: I actually signed to App. as an athlete knowing that I would play more than one position. When I moved to running back full-time, it was based on injuries. At the beginning of my career, they wanted me to play receiver because we had the school's all-time leading rusher ahead of me (Marcus Cox) and then behind him, we had Jalin Moore, who's now with the New York Jets, and two other talent rushers behind them. You had a legit stable of backs and all four had experience.
A couple of them had injuries to where I needed to transition from receiver to running back to get some playing time. I learned the playbook and the position two weeks before my freshman year. From there, I've just been really going with it. App. State is known for having running backs. We call it "R.B.U." — we're going to run the ball and always have one of the best run offenses in the country every year. With you seeing that tradition, it makes you want to play harder. I made it eight straight years that the program has had a 1,000-yard rusher. That's something that the team takes pride in.
Q: I loved your film, but the one concept that you have to take me through is the outside zone. You are so explosive on it and I just have to know what goes through your mind when running it. That has to be your favorite play too, correct?
E: At App. State, we run the outside zone so much that everybody believes that that's the running backs favorite play, but I'd say my favorite play is really inside zone. I prefer the inside zone over the outside zone because the offensive line is going more downhill. With the way we run our offense, you can run it out of the pistol or from the offset. When your guard, offensive tackle or center gets to the second level on the linebackers, and when they cut people on the backside, once you hit the next level, it's only you and the safety in the middle of the field. With a guy like me and my speed, I love seeing the holes and something to run through or I love seeing one guy with so much space. It's a hard tackle for the safety to make on anybody.
Q: As a player, what would you say is your biggest strength and weakness right now?
E: My biggest strength is my vision, speed out of my vision and my patience. For a weakness, it probably would be in the passing game with making myself more available. We were pretty much a run-heavy team. Even though I played receiver and I'm comfortable with catching the ball, I didn't have to do that much in our system, but I feel like at the next level if I can maximize my opportunities in the passing game, that would allow me to produce more for a team.