Over the past 15 years, Texas A&M has started to develop some high-caliber wide receivers. Robert Ferguson was only in Aggieland a year before heading to the NFL, but he helped set the standard. Terrence Murphy, Bethel Johnson, Jeff Fuller and most recently Ryan Swope and EZ Nwachukwu have done enough to gain the attention of NFL scouts.
But A&M has never seen a wide receiver like Mike Evans. Then again, few have.
Before Texas A&M faced off with Alabama Saturday, offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney said Evans had taken his game to "a whole new level" after a freshman season that saw him lead the team with 82 receptions and 1,105 yards. With 13 catches for 239 yards (18.3 YPC) and two TDs in the first two games, it looked like McKinney had a valid argument.
Then came Saturday, where Evans obliterated all expectations and A&M's school record for receiving yards in a game as he caught seven passes for 279 yards (an amazing average of 40 yards a catch) against the defense of the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Aggies' 49-42 loss.
Not Rice. Not Sam Houston State. Not even Oklahoma or Ole Miss or Missouri. Alabama.
At 6 feet, 5 inches tall and 225 pounds, Evans is a matchup nightmare for virtually any defender. When Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart left his corners in one-on-one coverage for large chunks of the game, Evans and quarterback Johnny Manziel took full advantage. With only one catch of less than 20 yards, Evans either outran, out jumped or simply outclassed one of the best secondaries in the nation as he topped a school record for receiving yards that had stood for more than 40 years by nearly 30 yards.
"I couldn't be prouder of him ... I knew he was going to come out and play really well," said Manziel, his roommate the night before games and a close friend. "In my eyes, Mike Evans is the best receiver in college football. I see him every day and every week I get to see how he works against defenders and it's just amazing. A big guy like that who can really run and gives it his all every game is a great player."
The always loquacious Nick Saban was also impressed by the redshirt sophomore wideout, who played a large role in the Aggies racking up more yards against Alabama than any team ever has in the 119-year history of the storied program.
"(Evans) had his way with us pretty much all day," the Alabama coach said afterward.
Give the Tide credit; they did what they could. They tried covering Evans with John Fulton early on, but after catches of 34, 35 and 32 yards, that experiment largely ended. Cyrus Jones was next, with senior Deion Belue trying his luck until he got hurt. No matter what happened, Evans was able to get himself wide open nearly every time Manziel threw him the ball.
"First they had number ten (Fulton) on me, then number five (Jones), and in the third, they put thirteen (Belue) on me," he said afterward.
Safety Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, who saw a lot of Evans Saturday, tipped his hat to the Aggie receiver.
"He's a great receiver," Clinton-Dix said. "He's not that fast, but he really knows how to use his body and make a play on a jump ball."
A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said Evans' domination opened up the rest of the Aggie offense.
"He's a 6 (foot) 5 (inch) guy that can run like a 5 (foot) 11 (inch) guy, he's 225 pounds. There were times where he was double covered with a man underneath him and one over the top and we were able to run the ball in the third quarter because of that," Sumlin said. "We ran the ball, I think, ninety percent of the time because of things he created schematically in the secondary."
After receiving an IV after the game, a visibly upset Evans didn't want to talk much about his individual exploits.
"I gave it all I had. I caught cramps at the end of the fourth. I feel kind of beat up like I played a whole season," he said.
When asked by a reporter if he had a favorite catch on the day, Evans stared as if the question had been asked in a foreign language and then shook his head sadly.
"Not really," he replied.
Did it hurt too much to think about?
"Yes, it does," Evans said. "I just tried to play as hard as I could. Johnny found me on a few big plays, but it wasn't enough."
Currently on pace to surpass 2,000 receiving yards during A&M's regular season, Evans' best is likely to be more than good enough many Saturdays this season.