Survive and thrive: Lessons from an NFL rookie season

Josh Evans appeared in 15 games during his rookie season with the Jaguars.

Melina Vastola/Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

After learning plenty of lessons in his rookie season in the NFL, Jaguars safety Josh Evans will spend his offseason going back to school.

Evans, 22, has two semesters left at the University of Florida to finish his criminology major.

While the bright lights of the NFL are easy to get mesmerized by, Evans believes it’s important to have a backup plan.

“I look at this league as you can’t take anything for granted,” Evans told in a telephone interview this week. “You should always have something to fall back on. Lord willing if I can play this game as long as I can and achieve my goals, I probably wouldn’t have to [pursue a career in law enforcement]. But if anything happened, I’d know that I’m educated enough to get involved.”

He’s also smart enough to remember what his coach Gus Bradley told him during an exit interview.

“They are expecting more of me in my second year,” Evans said. “I need to make sure that I’m getting better on the field and off the field. It wasn’t a long conversation, but now I know what the expectations of the NFL are and I need to take that into consideration whether that’s working out or whatever it is to become a better NFL player or a role model.”

Bradley got a scouting report from Florida head coach Will Muschamp on Evans. He fit the Jaguars’ scheme and they selected him in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL Draft. The plan was to bring Evans along slowly, give him work on special teams and play sparingly on defense.

Then, veteran safety Dwight Lowery went down with a concussion in the third game of the season against the Seahawks. Lowery’s season was over.

It was Evans’ time.

“I come in and I’m playing pretty good,” Evans remembers. “The second play I make a tackle, so I’m starting to build up some confidence.

“Well, my welcome to the NFL moment was when Russell Wilson rolled out and threw the ball in the end zone. It was like a dream come true. I couldn’t believe that it was thrown right at me. I saw the ball in the air and I jumped up to get the ball and the receiver came right in front of me. He snatched it and scored. And I was just stuck in the moment like wow. In this game, you have to go up and get the ball, nothing just comes to you.”

From that moment on Evans committed to getting better every single day. Whether if it was putting more time in the film room or picking some of the veterans’ minds, he would do whatever it took.

The Jaguars had the sixth-youngest active roster on opening day in 2013, according to ESPN. Building team chemistry with the veterans was never a problem, though.

Leaders in the locker room such as running back Maurice Jones-Drew, center Brad Meester and linebacker Paul Posluzny were always available. In fact, Evans picked up a few tricks to remain productive by taking care of his body.

“Paul said he was never big at getting massages, but now he’s someone who gets those down every other day,” Evans said. “Massage, treatment or getting his legs rubbed out and by about midseason I started to do those little things and I started to feel better with my body.

“When you hit the rookie wall, your body starts to feel a little tight. Maybe your body breaks down a little bit but that’s when those things need to be taken seriously because it helps you flush your body out.”

With some time to unwind, Evans has decided to share his NFL experience with others.

“I went to Ed White High School in Jacksonville and it was a blessing to be around those kids,” Evans said. “I was with some kids who had some disabilities and to see their smiles and uplift their spirits it really impacted me to be more vocal and come out to more events.

“My speech to them was to tell them don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t achieve in life. I was once told that I couldn’t make it pro or I couldn’t make it to a good college and now I am fortunate enough to say that I made it to the NFL and that I’m a starter in this league. My message to them was to keep faith alive and always believe.”