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Life of a Saint: Jahri Evans

Evans speaks about how growing up in the inner-city of Philadelphia prepared him for adversity in the future, his journey in the NFL and his focus after football.

NFC Championship: Minnesota Vikings v New Orleans Saints Photo by Larry French/Getty Images

“As far as adversity, coming up from Nicetown, that’s all you know. The inner city, that’s all you know. If you’re from the city, you don’t know anything else. That adversity sometimes is not really looked at as adversity when you’re young. It’s just looked at as your environment. You navigate it and that’s what makes you who you are. Other than injuries and learning the playbook, I really didn’t see anything as adversity. I just looked at it as things that were preparing me for what was ahead.” -Jahri Evans

Life of a Saint: Jahri Evans

Jahri Evans jested, “I’m from Nicetown, Philadelphia, which is not a nice town.”

Nicetown, PA is a neighborhood in North Philadelphia that’s been plagued with high poverty and crime rates for decades. And while some may be reluctant to speak about being surrounded by such a tough environment during their youth, Evans almost wears it like a badge of honor. Both the adversity he handled and the resiliency he developed during his youth got their roots from those streets, and Evans developed a love for Philadelphia has never diminished.

While Evans played some local neighborhood ball, he would not play any organized football until he reached high school. Evans explained, “The way they did it in Philadelphia is age and weight. I don’t know if they still do it that way. Obviously, I was overweight for my age group and I would have had to play with the older kids. My mom wasn’t having that. I still played football, just with no pads on, on the concrete or in the park.”

Evans didn’t follow his siblings to the local Gratz High School, but instead ended up at Frankford H.S. Frankford has a rich history of success in football, and it didn’t take long for Evans to jump right into things with both feet. “As soon as I got to Frankford, I went straight to coach’s office and asked him when tryouts were. He told me when tryouts were and I remember going and trying out for JV, which was with Coach Cap [Mike Capriotti].”

Evans Takes the Field

The road to NFL stardom didn’t start as smoothly as one might think. Evans shared, “I remember running the 40-yard dash and pulling my groin. So, I’m like, ‘Man, I finally get here and run the 40-yard dash and I’m starting off injured.’ But before that I had done some good stuff. I had showed off my hands and everything catching a couple passes.” Luckily, Evans had done enough to get the attention of the coaching staff and was assured, despite the early injury, that he had earned a roster spot on the JV team. Evans would enjoy a great season with his JV squad while watching the varsity team defend their championship with a second straight crown.

Evans shared that despite playing on some very talented teams throughout the rest of his high school years, a championship eluded him. During his junior year, Evans and his Frankford squad were undefeated when they lost to rival Bok “on a technicality.” Evans then stated, “It was ridiculous.”

New Orleans Saints fans can relate all too well.

The following year, Evans would sustain an injury that would keep him off the field. “So, my senior year came around. That summer before my senior year, I was playing basketball on Broad St. over near North Philly at the YMCA. I was lifting weights before I played basketball. I started playing basketball and I broke my tibia. I had a hairline fracture right below my patella and I had three pins and a screw in there. So, I had to sit out my whole senior season.”

Bloomsburg University

Despite losing his senior year of high school to injury, he had proven enough on the field to get the attention of many college coaches, with the help of one of his high school coaches. Evans recalled, “Coach Mullineaux [Tom Mullineaux] told me that whoever came through to see the other seniors, he would make sure I could see them as well. My senior year, I had four or five shoebox size boxes full of letters; D1 letters from all over the country. But everybody wanted to me to walk on and did not offer me anything. When Bloomsburg came, they offered me a Board of Governors scholarship from the Board of Governors of the university. There was also some football money.”

Despite an offer of a full ride from the much more local Temple University, Evans had a couple reasons why that offer wasn’t as appealing as Bloomsburg. For one, Temple didn’t have nearly as successful football program as they have today. Also, as Evans recalled, “I wanted to get out of the city of Philadelphia. Bloomsburg was coming off a national championship game appearance in 2000. I thought it was a great fit, being on the radar of a national championship that next coming season. That being said, I went up and took a visit of the campus. The coaching staff was great.”

Evans, a player who would eventually be known for his durability in the NFL, would suffer another injury in his sophomore year of college. Evans red-shirted as a freshman. The following year, he didn’t start but found the field in rotation with both the left and right tackles. “My O-line coach, Coach McBryan, wanted me on the field.” Evans managed to get almost completely through his first year of college football but would miss the final game with a broken ankle. It would be the last major injury of his playing career.

Evans would start his sophomore season, and as it turns out, every other game for the rest of his career.

Evans would dominate at Bloomsburg and his childhood dream of playing in the NFL seemed close enough to touch. “When I got to Bloom and I saw the scouts coming to look at the guys that went to the national championship the year before, I knew that the NFL would be watching. A couple of the scouts told me, ‘We’ll be back to check you out in four or five years. You passed the eye test and you’re a big guy. Just keep working and we’ll check you out.’ Luckily, my offensive coordinator at the time, his son was a scout for the Eagles. In 2006, the Eagles let him go and the Saints hired him as a scout. That’s how the Saints knew about me and drafted me”, Evans said.

As for how he was able to ultimately make it to the NFL, Evans cited several variables that played out just right. “I’ve always been a hard worker. Always worked hard and always knew what my goals were. Obviously, having coaches along the way, my family, and as a child you have your friends. You know, you always push each other, and everybody has the same goal to make it. Everybody is trying to be a professional athlete. The drive and the ‘want to’ came from within. Then I just surrounded myself with like-minded people that could encourage me and help me be better – whether that’s coaches, teachers, family, friends, loved ones, whatever. I understood how positive energy could really have a positive effect and negative energy can have a negative effect. But I just worked hard to overcome adversity, just as all the other players do along their journey. And when the opportunity presented itself, I made sure I was prepared and ready for it.”

An NFL Dream Realized

New Orleans Saints v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Despite coming from a small school, Evans fully expected to get drafted in the 2006 NFL Draft. “Looking back at all of that now, my draft grade was late rounds. But if you look at it, I was the second guard taken off the table. Max Jean-Gilles was number one from Georgia and I was number two. There is no doubt in my mind that if I would have played in Division I or even the Ivy League, I would have been in the first round.”

Evans would get drafted by the New Orleans Saints in the 4th round. Poetically, the pick used to select Evans was acquired in a trade with, of all cities, Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia native was headed out of Pennsylvania and on his way to a devastated city in New Orleans, post-Katrina. For Evans, his early concerns were not whether he could perform on an NFL field, but rather, what he could do to help his new city in the recovery process. “When I did get to New Orleans and got to see all the devastation, to see how much of a ghost town it was, it was like, ‘Man, we gotta win and we need to win now.’”

For Evans, it was a personal mission.

“Watching the city and what they went through the previous year, to get in there and how we were able to uplift their spirits in 2006 and along the way, building houses for Habitat for Humanity, the United Way, the Wounded Warriors Foundation, the Irving Morris Foundation and doing things over my 11 years in the city was awesome.”

Evans stated that the two things that caught him off guard when he arrived in New Orleans were the amount of devastation he saw and, of course, the heat.

Not Your Father’s Saints

Sean Payton recently stated, “I would say, without a doubt, and there would be no argument from anyone that has any knowledge of the Saints’ organization, that these two gentlemen (Roman Harper and Jahri Evans) are part of a draft class that completely changed the culture and began, really, the pillars of a Super Bowl Championship run.”

Aside from what many consider the greatest draft class in Saints’ history, the franchise added pieces in the free agent market (most notably Drew Brees) that would round out new head coach Sean Payton’s roster. That 2006 group immediately achieved things that no other Saints team had done in their history, playing their way into the NFC Championship game.

This was not your father’s Saints.

Special Moments in New Orleans

Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saints Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Jahri Evans’ first home game just happened to be the first game in the Superdome post-Katrina. He shared what it was like for him, stating, “After the longest freaking training camp in NFL history and playing games at Jackson State, getting in the dome was amazing. Just everything around it from the fans to the coverage and what we were able to accomplish. I think it was week 3 when we finally came home. I just know that we went into this game knowing we were not going to lose this game. Everybody was extremely alert, understanding exactly what it meant, not just for us, but for the fans. Obviously big for us because it’s Atlanta and a big division game, but also for the fans and everybody in the region. Preparing for that game throughout the week, putting in the different plays and watching Coach Bono [John Bonamego] and Coach Mac [Greg McMahon] tell [Steve} Gleason, ‘Listen, this is what we’ve got on this long snapper. You’re gonna come through here and block this punt.’”

Evans cited a ‘chink in the armor’ that the coaches had found where the long snapper for Atlanta was keeping his head down. “That’s what they coached up Gleason on and he ran it perfectly.”

Evans then continued, “As a rookie, I had to it in all the special teams’ meetings. I was only on field goal protect, but they made all the rookies sit in on all the special teams’ meetings. To see that come to fruition and to go out and be able to contain Michael Vick, who was one of the most electrifying guys to ever play the game – I grew up watching him. Now, I’m watching my defense corral him and keep him from doing what he likes to do. Coming out there for the win after Katrina was an awesome experience. It was a great way to start us all up in that first game in the dome.”

While the 2006 season was a pleasant surprise, the following two seasons seemed a bit disappointing to both the players and fans alike. But despite the 7-9 and 8-8 records in 2007 and 2008, Evans and his teammates continued to believe in what Sean Payton was building.

2009 would not be so disappointing.

Evans discussed what was different about the 2009 team, a group that would ultimately win the first championship of Evans’ life. “It was just the work ethic. What we had went through the previous three years, in training camp, seeing how we were building this machine, the ultimate goal was to win a championship. Getting the right players in here to fit our mold, whether it was free agency or drafting, we were getting the guys around Drew so he could do what he does best. Getting a guy like [Robert] Meachem, big, strong and fast was huge. What he did in Washington and throughout the season was great. Then we had Lance [Moore] and [Marques] Colston, just seeing how the team was built was something. Then, we bring in [Jeremy] Shockey, and adding those pieces like Goody [Jonathan Goodwin] made it so that we were starting off winning 13 in a row. And Carl Nicks was definitely a huge part of our success, with Goody in between us. We were all integral in helping deliver the ball down field.”

Evans continued to show love for his guys. “Then JV, Jonathan Vilma. He was a big part of the defense, as far as him being smart and practicing as hard as he did.” Evans referred to Vilma as the ‘commander of the defense.’

Evans continued, “The training camp was extremely difficult with the defense and what they were doing. Gregg Williams really had them focusing on getting the ball back into the offense’s hands. That’s why we had a lot of success.”

Evans spoke about the occasional fights that would happen at camp because the intensity level was so high. But in his eyes, that wasn’t a bad thing because they were able to bring that same intensity to their opponents on Sundays.

“We were able to gain one or two possessions a game and allow our high-powered offense to drive down the field and dictate the game. I remember when we would get down thinking that the defense is gonna get the ball back for us, and they did. Then, when our number was called, we’d go down there and get it. That was the mentality that we had. The defense would say they were gonna get the ball back. Then, when we got the ball back, we had to answer. We kept each other accountable. When we needed to lean on one side of the ball, even special teams, everybody did their job. The coaches did a great job preparing us and bringing in different speakers at different times that everybody could relate to and they inspired us to do great things. We were able to win 13 games in a row. Losing the last three games of the season and hearing all the doubters, ‘Nobody has won a Super Bowl since this, this this. They lost three games…’ Being able to just reset and turn it back on again, it was awesome.”

Despite a football career filled with All-Pro Awards, Pro Bowl appearances, All-Decade Team honors, All-Rookie Awards, Madden Most Valuable Protector Awards, DII All-American nominations and being a member of both the New Orleans Saints 50th Anniversary team and, most recently, the Saints Hall of Fame, none of the awards compares to becoming a Super Bowl Champion for Evans.

“Those memories of that season and everything we went through, to be the best of the best, that’s obviously the biggest one. Then you have memories along the way, whether it’s with teammates on the field, off the field, on vacation. But being a Super Bowl champion is something that was always a goal of mine. I came from a successful high school program in Frankford, which I’m pretty sure still has the most championships in the public league in the city. Not winning a championship at Frankford, when that’s all they did was win championships in football, basketball, baseball, soccer, whatever. Then going to Bloom, getting close and almost having an undefeated season my senior year, once again losing to Brent Grimes and his crew. So, becoming a champion in the NFL, the only time I won a championship in football, it’s just very special to me.”

A Very Brief Departure from New Orleans

“When the Saints cut me in March after they tried to trade me three years prior, it hit me a little different. It wasn’t about my play obviously. It wasn’t that I couldn’t cut it. It wasn’t that they had somebody to replace me, because they didn’t. It was difficult because it was not about football. It is what it is.”

But despite playing at an elite level, Evans was cut and headed to Seattle to continue his NFL career after spending a decade in New Orleans. Evans would sign a one-year deal on August 6, 2016.

Evans remembered being contacted by New Orleans during the pre-season. The Saints were asking Evans’ agent, Jerrold Colton, if the former Saint would be released. Both Evans and his agent didn’t think it would happen. But throughout that pre-season, Evans shared that there were signs that something wasn’t right, and he should have picked up on it earlier than he did.

Evans recalled an interaction with Pete Carroll, sharing, “. I remember Pete Carroll coming up to me during the fourth pre-season game and he goes, ‘Man, you’re 10 years in. I bet you didn’t expect to play in the fourth quarter of the fourth pre-season game.’ I said, ‘Nah, I didn’t but it’s all good.’ I didn’t see them cutting me.” Evans then added, “I was always starting, so he was right. For the Seahawks, I was the third crew playing in that fourth quarter, which was mind-boggling. I guess I should have known I wasn’t going to make the team, but I didn’t.”

Despite being a 10-year veteran on a very young and inexperienced offensive line, however, Evans was not kept around. “At the time, I didn’t know the o-line coach didn’t want me there.” Evans was released just prior to the start of the 2016 season by Seattle and found his way back to New Orleans.

“I probably could have waited until after week one and got signed by whoever. But New Orleans had an offense I was familiar with for 10 years. It was the best place for me, to go back to that offense. Right after I signed the contract and cut the deal, I knew that it would be my last year in New Orleans. I figured it would be the best opportunity to showcase what I could do.”

Green Bay Packers v Cleveland Browns

Jahri Evans in Green Bay

Jahri Evans would end up playing one year, his final season, in Green Bay. “I definitely didn’t think it was my last season. I played at a very high level in one of the top offenses in the league.” Evans was a key part of another prolific offense, guarding another future Hall of Famer in Aaron Rodgers.

The Packers got off to a 4-1 Start before losing Rodgers to injury in week 6. The injury upended the Packers season.

Despite the high-level performance, a veteran’s knowledge of the game and a body that wsa still capable, Evans was not afforded an opportunity to come back to the NFL after that 2017 season.

“After the season, with Aaron being down and us not being in the playoffs, they never came back to the table for whatever reason. Neither did any other team in the NFL. That’s a question you have to ask the 32 squads. A lot of stuff doesn’t make sense in this league.”

Canton Bound?

When asked if he expects to someday get the call from the NFL Hall of Fame, Evans offered, “Yeah, I do. I think that what I was asked to do in 12 seasons, there is no guard in history that was able to do what I’ve done. Whether it was in the run game, the passing game, the screen game, pulling to the left in the pass game, pulling to the right in the run game, I don’t think there’s been a guard in the league that’s been asked to do it all. I was asked to do it all, whether it was in New Orleans or Green Bay. And I did it at a high level.”

But Evans realizes that the process of players being inducted into the Hall of Fame can be unpredictable, but feels his versatility gives him a good shot at the honor.

Evans on Charity, on Business and on Family

Jahri Evans spent over a decade caring for more than the quarterback and running backs behind him. His name has been associated with countless charity efforts and fund raisers benefitting the citizens of the Gulf Coast.

And although he spent so much time outside his home state, Philadelphia forever stayed dear to Evans. Off-seasons during his career would see Jahri Evans host free youth football camps at Frankford High School, charity bowling events and many more efforts aimed at helping his hometown. Evans also ran a high school ‘helmets only’ o-line camp with an old friend in Coach McBryan for over a decade. Both camps would churn out eventual Division I players, NFL players and even a Super Bowl Champion in fellow Frankford High School alum, Zaire Anderson.

Evans hasn’t forgotten where he came from and continues to be involved in Philly.

“One thing I’ve done, and will always continue to do, is be active in the Philadelphia school district (both public and private) and the city of Philadelphia with numerous organizations, whether it’s C.H.O.P., Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the Daniel Rump Foundation, or other things we have done over the years. But the one thing I do at my university is that there is a scholarship named after me. At first, I pioneered the scholarship for graduate students in the exercise science program, which is what my bachelor’s is in. Then, a couple years after that, I gave a sizable donation to the university and they turned it into the Jahri Evans Scholarship, which we award about 10 children a year. We are approaching our first graduate class of the Jahri Evans scholarship. That scholarship will be at Bloomsburg University forever.”

Evans was also the spokesperson and worked in conjunction with both Philadelphia schools and the Savino foundation to equip those schools with AEDs (Automated External Defibrillators). “The Savino Foundation had donated 10 and then I matched their donation with another 10. Then, in less than two years, we got them in all Philadelphia public schools, from elementary to middle to high schools.”

Evans also has become involved in several business ventures including part ownership of the Philadelphia Soul, owner of Venu Restaurant, is involved in Beignet Box (owned by his wife, Liz Morris and Christina Milian), and extensively real estate. Regarding the latter, Evans laughed as he offered, “I’ve been doing real estate since 2007 in New Orleans. My first property was on Tchoupitoulas near Emeril’s first restaurant. It took me two weeks to learn how to spell that.”

Continuing, Evans also has ownership stake in One Hope Wine, investments with Intudo Ventures, and is partner at All Fitness Personal Training, a company founded by his former trainer. Evans has plans to get involved in the development of affordable housing in Philadelphia in the future as well.

More important than all of that, Evans is a husband and a father to two young boys, spending as much time with them as possible, while juggling all his business ventures and charity work – again displaying his versatility, in true Jahri Evans fashion.

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