Of all the NFL’s elite players, few have traveled a more curious path than New Orleans Saints right guard Jahri Evans.
He attended a Division II program — Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania — on an academic scholarship. He never played organized football until reaching high school. Even then, Evans was forced to miss his senior season because of an injury.
And now? Evans is a three-time Pro Bowl selection who has never missed a start in six-plus NFL seasons — Sunday’s FOX America’s Game of the Week matchup against the 49ers will mark Evans’ 107th straight.
As the Saints prepared for the game (4:25 p.m. ET kickoff), Evans spoke with FOXSports.com about his unusual background and his NFL career.
Q: What makes a great NFL guard?
Evans: You have to be tough and able to handle the heavy rushers — big guys with a lot of power who are just going to try and push you back. They’re not really going to give you a lot of moves or shake or anything but just a lot of power.
Q: After playing left tackle in college, what was the biggest transition in switching to guard, and how great a jump was it coming from a Division II school?
Evans: Terminology, how plays are called, the speed of guys, and how much stronger and bigger guys are. When I was in college, guys who were (defensive) ends were the size of linebackers in the NFL. You still get that speed, but you don’t get the speed mixed with the power.
When I got here, it was like baptism by fire. I started all the preseason games my rookie year. I had a lot of vets around me where I didn’t have to do much thinking on the plays that were called. I just had to block the three-technique (defensive tackle). That’s how we approached it. As the years went on, I’ve just tried to gather as much information as I could and continue to get better.
Q: Who are the names of some defensive guys who give you a tough challenge?
Evans: (Dallas nose tackle Jay) Ratliff. He’s a guy who has long arms and is a power/speed guy inside who can also get to the edge. (Baltimore’s) Haloti Ngata and (Detroit’s) Nick Fairley are two more, and I had problems with ‘Kemo’ [nose tackle Ma’ake Kemoeatu] early in my career when he was with Carolina.
Q: Who has gotten under your skin?
Evans: There aren’t really too many guys. Earlier in my career, a lot of guys would big-time me a little bit being from a D-II school. They’d try to punk me on the field. But nowadays, guys really don’t talk too much trash out there to me. It’s more the rookies and younger guys who I haven’t seen before. Like in the (Philadelphia) Eagles game this year, No. 72 [defensive tackle Cedric Thornton] kept yapping the whole game. He played well, but I put him down a few times, too.
Q: Why didn’t you play football until high school?
Evans: When I was growing up, you had to be a certain weight and age. I was always the age, but I was too heavy. I had to lose the weight, and that wasn’t going to happen. Mom didn’t like that too much. When I was in high school, I pretty much took off from there, but I only played two years because I broke my leg as a senior playing basketball in the summer. Luckily enough, I had good grades and a couple of scholarships came around from (Division I-AA) schools. I just decided to go D-II to Bloomsburg.
Q: You’re one of the few NFL players to have attended college on an academic scholarship. How proud are you of that?
Evans: I’m very proud. When I got hurt as a senior, I knew I wouldn’t be able to get good looks (from Division I colleges) because I didn’t play. My main focus was just to get good grades. My senior year of high school I got straight A’s and did pretty good on my SATs. I got a Board of Governors scholarship to Bloomsburg, because they don’t give full athletic scholarships.
Q: At 6-foot-4 and 318 pounds, how much do you have to watch your diet on the NFL level?
Evans: A lot. It’s just one day that you have weigh-ins. But for me, I drink a bottle of water and I gain a pound. You’ve got to hydrate yourself, so you do have to watch your carbs like pastas and breads, especially in the offseason. It’s just a matter of management during the season. It honestly helps you play better if you’re at a good weight.
Q: You’ve never missed an NFL start. What’s the closest you’ve come?
Evans: I’ve had turf toe in 2009 and this season. Luckily, it came right before a bye week both times so I had two weeks to get ready. I wouldn’t have been able to play that next week.
Q: What guards did you watch when you came into the league who you wanted to emulate?
Evans: Larry Allen, Steve Hutchinson, Alan Faneca and (New York Giants guard Chris) Snee.
Q: Someday, young offensive linemen are going to be watching video of you. How do you want to be remembered?
Evans: He’s a tough guy to get around, and he doesn’t like to lose a play, because I truly don’t.