TAMPA — He was born when his mother was 14 years old. He was 9 when his father was murdered. He had next to nothing but his sports games while growing up poor in Galveston, Texas. His family was once forced out of its home for a year after a hurricane slammed the coastal island city. They moved from hotel to hotel, and finally into a meat market that had been converted into apartments. Batman was his favorite superhero.
In Gotham on Thursday night, at the NFL draft in New York City, it hit him, all of it, all at once. Mike Evans cried after the Bucs selected the Texas A&M receiver seventh overall. He was holding his 2-year-old daughter Mackenzie when his name was called. He hugged family and friends, among them his Aggies throw-and-catch pardner, Johnny Manziel.
Friday afternoon found the joyfully sleepless Evans before cameras at One Buc Place, in a dress shirt, tie and vest — and white high-top basketball sneakers. This 20-year-old has my kind of style. And an amazing story. One worth those tears.
“I didn’t expect to do that, but realizing my dream is coming true, it finally hit me,” Evans said. “It’s kind of embarrassing to me. I try to be a tough guy. It was a great moment, realizing I get to take care of my family now and just do what I love.”
It was a great moment, a window into a young man whose journey, one that has taken him most everywhere a heart and soul can go, has led to a dream come true.
It was more than Evans hanging with the other top draft picks in New York, mixing with celebrities. The coolest part, cooler than what he thinks he’ll do for the Bucs, is what he knows he’ll do for his family.
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Mike Evans spoke about his mother, Heather Kilgore.
“People thought she was my big sister when she dropped me off at school,” he said. “She had me at 14 years old. Just watching her struggle, doing everything she did for us, me, my brother and my sister. She did everything she could so we could have whatever we wanted. I want to give her the world.”
Mike Evans spoke of his baby girl, Mackenzie. She lives near Galveston with her mother.
“Draft night was the second best night of my life after (the day) she was born,” he said. “She’s so much fun to be around. I want her to grow up better than I did. I’m going to use that as motivation on the field and off the field.”
Evans has a tattoo on his left arm that spells out his daughter’s name. His right arm has a tattoo that reads “R.I.P.” and “Mickey,” the nickname for his father, Mike Evans Jr., who was murdered during a dispute when his son was in fourth grade. Details aren’t plentiful; the family doesn’t go into it much.
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Mike Evans spoke about his dad.
“He wanted me to play sports,” he said. “When I was a kid, I liked playing sports, but when he died, I started playing everything with an edge about me because I wanted him to be proud of me. He’s up there, looking down on me now. I just use that as motivation. … He was very athletic. He was so athletic, about 6-foot, 6-1, real big. He was a funny guy. We used to have a lot of fun together. But he’s gone now, looking down on me. That’s my angel.”
The 6-5 Evans was a basketball phenom at Galveston’s Ball High School, windmill dunk a specialty. He got away from football, but took it up again as a high school senior. It makes you wonder if he wanted to be an NBA or an NFL star.
“I wanted to be both,” he said.
He dreamed big.
Evans will wear No. 13 for the Bucs, as he did at A&M. He feels lucky every day.
In June, before his redshirt sophomore season at Texas A&M, he was in a car accident in which he was ejected from the vehicle.
“I thanked God,” Evans said. “Nothing was broken. Just my ear was split in half, a cut over my eye, that was it. Love taps. It was nothing major. I got to play football that year. I just thanked God.”
He figures maybe he’s supposed to be here.
“It’s so surreal, man,” Evans said. “It comes down to God again. He’s great.
“I never thought coming from Galveston, Texas, where I come from, it’s hard to get out of there. I did it, but I had a lot of help. God’s blessed me with a lot of great people around me. I’m just blessed.”
He didn’t want to cry at the draft. Big, tough kid. The tears just came, with Mackenzie in his arms.
“It was just holding her,” he said, “knowing that she’s going to have a better life growing up than me.”