Evans a natural athlete

Published 9:11 am Thursday, August 3, 2017

Think Bill Evans was a natural athlete in football? As a Davie freshman in 1958-59, he wasn’t able to play football – nor basketball – because he got sick. The diagnosis: Rheumatic fever.

Four years later he was signing a full scholarship to play football at Wake Forest.

Football, by the way, was not the only sport he was skilled in.  He was talented enough in basketball to attract college offers. His achievements on the gridiron and hardwood put him in the pantheon of great Davie stars of yesteryear.

Evans (Class of 1962), Roger Pierce (1964), Ronnie Foster (1966), Debbie Evans (1990) and Seth Grooms (2002) form the 17th Davie High Athletic Hall of Fame class. They will be inducted Sept. 22 at halftime of Davie’s football game.

“I was very honored and very surprised,” Evans, 73, said of hearing the news.

Perhaps no Davie great has gotten off to a quieter start. The Rheumatic fever killed his freshman year.

“I’ve had a two-time life-threatening event with Rheumatic fever,” he said. “Before going into ninth grade, I wound up getting really sick on a family vacation at the beach. I had a period of severe strep throats all through my childhood, and my doctor gave me penicillin shots for a long period of time, hoping they would ward off anything. But from strep throat, I wound up with Rheumatic fever and was not able to play sports my freshman year. I talked (the doctor) into letting me play my sophomore year.”

Evans’ first taste of organized football came as a 1959 sophomore. He was motivated by his athletic older relatives.

“We had a lot of neighborhood games,” he said. “A group of us who had grown up together on Highway 601 (near Kentucky Fried Chicken) would get together and play in the backyard. I had three uncles (P.D. Cain, Lee Cain and Dean Cain) who played football and I had a second cousin – Lloyd Caudle – who went to Duke on a football scholarship. He would throw passes when I would run as far as I could.”

In football, the Davie Rebels (the nickname was changed to War Eagles before the 1970-71 school year) went 7-19-4 from 1956-58. But coach Jack Ward’s boys reversed their fortunes during Evans’ sophomore year in 1959. They started 6-0 before settling for 7-3. This was the beginning of Evans’ run as a two-way, three-year starter at end.

“You think about how we would go to practices before the season on the field at Cooleemee and you’d practice for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon and the last thing anybody could ever do was have a drink of water,” he said. “Think about how tough that was in all that heat.”

The Rebels went 6-3-1 in 1960, the final year of playing home games in the outfield – and on a section of the infield – at Rich Park. They debuted on the new, on-campus field in 1961, going 5-4-1 for a third straight winning season with Evans playing end on offense and defense. Evans (6-foot-3, 190 pounds), tackles Ed Bowles and Jim Eaton and guard Tim Davis were named to the all-North Piedmont Conference team.

“I had really good hands,” Evans said. “I could pretty much catch anything thrown. But we didn’t throw anything like they do now.”

“He was a good receiver and a good blocker,” said John Grimes, who was teammates with Evans at Davie and Wake. “He was good. There’s no question about it. Bill was a good athlete.”

Davie boys basketball struggled mightily in the early days, going 2-16 in 1956-57, 4-12 in 1957-58 and 1-16 in 1958-59. When Evans was a sophomore in 1959-60, the Rebels transformed into a competitive unit, going 9-8 in Bob Butts’ first year as coach and 7-9 in 1960-61. Evans was a starter all three years in basketball.

“It seemed like I blossomed between my sophomore and junior year,” he said. “I had this aspiration and dream that all I wanted to do in life was play forward for the Boston Celtics. I went to a summer camp at Campbell College. You had people there from all over the state, and I was one of the most valuable players out of the camp when you had people from everywhere. That was a pretty big confidence-builder. I think I had more talent for basketball because I had a really good shot. I practiced a lot. I had a jump shot from about anywhere you would want to shoot. I certainly wasn’t as good as Steph Curry, but I used to think I was.”

The 1961-62 season was a smashing success. After a slow start that saw Ward take over as coach during Christmas break, the Rebels went 17-5 overall, 13-1 in the NPC and celebrated the first championship in any sport in the sixth year of the school. (The girls matched the feat.) Davie featured a formidable front line. Evans, the team captain, was a 6-3 forward. Chuck Tomlinson  and Jimmy Anderson were 6-7 and 6-4, respectively, on the low post.

“I remember how big we must have been for a high-school team in those years,” Evans said. “We had a lot of power inside. I may have had the best jump shot, but if you got it (inside to Tomlinson and Anderson), they could stand there like Shaq O’Neal used to do and drop it in because nobody could get to them.”

“For those days we had a big team,” said Charles Crenshaw, who was a junior in 1961-62. “Grimes Parker was 6-2 at guard.”

Going into the regular-season finale at Davie’s new gym (it played home games at Cooleemee from 1956-57 through 1960-61), Davie was 12-1 and North Rowan 11-2. They played an all-time thriller, with Davie clinching the outright title with a 46-45 win. Junior “Peewee” Beal had 14 points, Anderson 10, Parker nine, Tomlinson seven and Evans six.

When Davie hosted Albemarle in the first round of the North-South Piedmont tournament, 2,000 fans packed the gym as Davie romped 63-42. Tomlinson had 21 points, Evans 15 and Anderson 13. The historic ride ended with a 50-43 semifinal loss to Asheboro, which went on to capture the Western North Carolina High School Activities Association title. Beal, a guard, and Evans made the all-tournament team.

Evans was all-NPC as a junior and senior, when he averaged 13 points a game. He was named team MVP both years. The 1962 all-conference team included Tomlinson, Anderson and Parker. As a senior, Evans was honorable mention all-state and one of 16 players named to the Journal and Sentinel All-Northwest Team.

The All-Northwest article said: “He loves to shoot from the corner and also drives well. In the classroom he’s a straight A student.”

“He had a sweet jump shot. He really did,” John Grimes said. “He was very fluid.”

Crenshaw recently dusted off a basketball and demonstrated Evans’ signature move in his driveway.

“Everybody played a 2-3 zone then,” he said. “He had a way of getting around the wing guy in the zone and he would blast to the rim. He would be on the left wing. He’d get by the guy on the baseline side and he glided sideways. That’s the move I remember him making and there wasn’t anybody else that made that move. If you got in his way, you were going to get creamed because it was really a forceful drive.”

On Dec. 12, 1961, Evans signed his football grant in aid with Wake. He played on the Deacons’ freshman team in 1962 and on the varsity squad in 1963. Among his ’63  teammates were receiver/tight end Grimes, running back Brian Piccolo and quarterback John Mackovic.

His Wake career, however, was cut short when he was stricken again by Rheumatic fever.

“Going into my junior year, I was not taking care of myself and I got really sick again with strep throat,” he said. “I went to the hospital and wound up with Rheumatic fever occurring again. I was out of school for half a year and almost died. I was left with a little bit of heart damage from that and advised by doctors to not continue football.”

He has been second-guessing himself for decades about choosing college football over basketball.

“I look back in some ways with a lot of regret,” he said. “I’ve told my family members: ‘Don’t do what somebody else might want you to do. Do what you want to do.’ I had three uncles who went to Wake and they were my role models. They took me to Wake football and basketball games. I had an offer for football during my senior year and I went ahead and accepted it without really weighing over options. I had other football offers from N.C. State and Furman and maybe Western Carolina, but I just accepted Wake because I knew my family would be proud of me. Then I played my senior year of basketball, which I enjoyed more. Then I had several basketball offers but was already committed to Wake. In hindsight, I wish I had waited. If I could do things over, I would have gone to Davidson to play basketball. I had offers from Furman and Davidson.

“I didn’t enjoy playing (football at Wake) like I did at Davie. The style of coaching wasn’t like Jack Ward. Coach Ward recognized everybody’s personality. If there’s somebody that needs to be yelled and screamed at a little bit, he’d do it to motivate them. If he knew that you were down on yourself because of what you did that was a mistake, he’d kind of leave you alone, pat you on the back and say go get ‘em the next time.”

Evans left Wake in 1964, enrolled at Catawba College and earned a business degree. He was hired by Southern Bell Telephone Company, worked in Asheville for four years and then moved to Charlotte. He sold Jaguar cars for 20-plus years and won numerous awards. “I had a couple of years where I was the No. 1 Jaguar salesman in North America,” he said.

He’s lived in Charlotte for 28 years.

“My heart damage from Rheumatic fever has been with me all my life, but I never really had any limitations,” he said. “I was an avid runner. I ran five miles every day until five years ago. I had open-heart surgery a couple years ago and I’ve come back from that very strong. I’ve gotten excellent reports that I’m 35 years old again.”