Kentucky senior defensive end DeQuin Evans readily admits he grew up in a dangerous housing project in Compton, Calif., and knows he’s lucky that football gave him a chance to better his life.
“When you come from where I did, you learn to appreciate everything you have or get,” said Evans, who played at Los Angeles Harbor College before transferring to UK. “Everything that people see on TV that happens in Compton or thinks happens in the projects there, it probably does happen. I’ve got friends in wheelchairs now and friends who’ve been shot and didn’t even gang-bang. You can just be in the wrong place at the wrong time and get shot.”
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Here are other thoughts he shared on his background.
Question: What was your life like growing up and what role, if any, did sports play in your life?
Evans: When I was a young kid, my mother got me into flag football. Growing up in the neighborhood I did in Compton, Calif., it was a tough neighborhood. She always tried to get me involved in sports to keep me away from all the trouble and all the wrong stuff going on and try to keep me around positive friends and people she knew from church more than people staying in my apartment complex.
I always looked up to my cousin, Hershel Dennis. He played running back at USC and was a magnificent football player. I always wanted to get the hype that he got. Everybody always couldn’t wait until my cousin came around and he always was having fun. I used to see him on TV. That is what pulled me into football and had me thinking I could do it.
Question: Was it easy to listen to your mother at those times?
Evans: There was so much temptation, so it was hard. If you make the wrong decision, you end up in the wrong place. If you make the right decision, you end up in the right place. But sometimes it is harder to make the right decision and is easier to make the wrong decision. A lot of the times I just listened to my grandfather and buckled down and went to practice. One thing that was different about me was that I never played high school football. I fell out of sports and it just wasn’t for me. I lost my grandfather, Tavita Maefau, when I was only 12 and it was hard for me. He was my father. I am not in good contact with my real father, so it put me through a lot. I was depressed emotionally about when I started high school. He was my right-hand man. He was my No. 1 fan. He would be at all my flag football games and take me out to eat after all of them. He let me know how proud of me he was all the time.
Every time I was on the football field, I was trying to please him and my mom. That is who I felt like I was playing for and felt like they were the only two in stands watching me. It was hard on me not having him there. I fell out of football and started hanging around the wrong crowd of people. Football was not in my repertoire any more.
Question: What did you do between high school and when you started playing junior college football?
Evans: I graduated high school and took a year off. I was just working to help my mom out with the rent and stuff like that. I was working at Albertsons, a grocery store. It was not glamorous work at $6.25 per hour. My cousin took me under his wing and told me I needed to play football. I hung around him a year or so and he showed me all the ropes. I would be around all his friends Reggie Bush, LenDale White, Dominque Byrd.
One of my friends played all four years in high school but he was out of football for two years. He was always a player. He told me he was up at Harbor College and I should come up and try. I went up there and talked to the football coach and he said to start workouts next month and get ready.
I was staying with my cousin, so I moved back to my mom’s house. She had this huge hill about like from one side of Commonwealth Stadium to the top of the other side called Signal Hill. I was heavy, about 260 pounds, with bad weight. I would run that thing until I couldn’t feel my legs any more and was throwing up on the side or the road. I ran like that for a month and a half straight every day. I went into workouts and saw I was passing a lot of guys up who had been playing football their whole life.
My first season I made all-American. That was huge for me. I was making plays I didn’t know I could my make. I thought I was just an average player. Once I heard I had an opportunity to be great and my junior college coach said I was one of the best players he had coached after one year, that was huge for me. That gave me self-confidence that I can’t even explain and showed me how hard work paid off.