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Best Month Becomes the Worst : Top Ram Draftee Won't Get Chance to Repay His Mother

May 14, 1987|CHRIS DUFRESNE | Times Staff Writer

Donald Evans, in body, arrived at Rams Park Wednesday, ready to carry out his duties as the team's top draft choice at minicamp.

Donald Evans, in mind and spirit, remains in a hospital room in Raleigh, N.C., with the memory of his mother.

It will be some time before mind and body reunite.

This was supposed to have been the best month of his life, not the worst. Evans, the youngest of 16 children, had fought his way out of poverty and the projects of Raleigh to become the first draft choice of the Rams, who took the defensive end with the 47th pick, on the second round.

On draft day, April 28th, Evans of Winston-Salem State was already talking about repaying his mother, who for years had raised a family on her own by stretching a monthly Social Security check beyond imagination.

But Evans never got the chance to say thank you.

Novella Evans, 65, was scheduled for surgery on the very day her son was drafted. She was already weakened by heart problems, diabetes and kidney and liver ailments when she had her right leg amputated because of gangrene.

She died of complications early Saturday morning, May 2.

Her son was with her at the end.

"It was an emotional thing," he said. "I looked at her again and she was lying there not moving. What really got me was that they left the curtain open a little after she died. I hung around. It affected me a whole lot when they put the sheet over her head."

Evans was excused from defensive minicamp last week and missed the first two days of practice this week. He is here now, though not completely.

"My mother has been on my mind a lot," he said. "It's hard just to push her to one side and think of football. But if she was here, she'd want me to just play football and do well."

Evans had hoped his mother would live to see him sign his first NFL contract. It was his intention--through football--to give something back to her and the family.

"I'm not a genius," Evans said. "But I figured with football I could get a chance to help my mother. I've been standing in the projects all my life, I wanted to do a lot for her. Then a couple days after the draft she dies. I didn't get a chance to do what I wanted to do."

Perhaps, though, Evans did. He said his mother was very excited about his being drafted by the Rams, even though she wasn't quite sure just who the Rams were.

"The Rams sent her flowers in the hospital," Evans said. "She was thrilled. She told me to work hard and not to get hurt."

And Evans has vowed to do that. Of course, that doesn't mean there won't be obstacles to clear. It will be up to Evans to separate what is good and bad about the NFL.

He seemed an easy target from the beginning.

When Evans first told his story to reporters on draft day, he also mentioned that he didn't yet have an agent.

In the days that followed, more than 100 resumes arrived at his alma mater, all pleading for his business.

Of course, all said they had Evans' best interest at heart.

It turns out that Evans had all but decided on Steve Weinberg, a Dallas-based attorney. Weinberg had met and won approval from Novella Evans shortly before she died.

Evans' story touched far and wide. Ken Kragen, the Hollywood agent of Kenny Rogers and Lionel Richie and a driving force behind such good-will projects as "We Are The World" and "Hands Across America," called to ask how he could help Evans.

Kragen requested anonymity and said he did not wish to represent Evans, that he only wanted to make sure that Evans did not fall into the wrong hands.

By that time, Evans had already chosen Weinberg.

And Weinberg is intent on keeping his client's path straight and his mind clear.

Evans reported to minicamp at 274 pounds, about 15 more than his intended playing weight.

"I don't care what his weight is," Ram Coach John Robinson said. "We'll get him in shape. I'll be mad at him if he's not ready to go."

The Rams are hoping that Evans is the big pass rusher they've been looking for, despite the fact that Evans isn't that tall at 6-foot-1 and was a converted running back who played only 15 games at defensive end in college.

Robinson has said he intends to play Evans right away, and Evans isn't about to argue.

"They told me they needed a pass rusher," Evans said. "It doesn't surprise me that they'd throw me in. I'm here to play."

Evans plans to remain in Anaheim a few weeks after minicamp before going home to North Carolina.

He says it's time to move on.

"I know she's going to heaven," Evans said of his mother. "There's nothing I can do. If she was here right now, she'd tell me to go ahead and get ahead with my life."

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