When you first meet Ciante Evans, you’d guess he’s yet to meet a shaving kit.
Soft-spoken. Boyish face. He might be asked for his hall pass if he were walking through a middle school.
“He looks like he’s about 14, but he carries himself on the field like he’s about 24,” said Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini. “He’s a very mature football player. No doubt about it. He’s going to be special. He has the ability.”
That ability made the cornerback one of just three true freshmen to play for Nebraska this season – the others are offensive lineman Andrew Rodriguez and wide receiver Quincy Enunwa.
Coaches did not just call on Evans to play in 2010. They put him in the fire.
He came off the bench to play most of the game at corner against Missouri when Alfonzo Dennard left with a concussion. Evans started the next week at Iowa State.
The results: a lot of good, a little bad, plenty of chances to grow.
“To have Ciante coming back with playing experience, that first game (next year) he is still going to have those natural jitters, but he’ll have experience, and you need that,” said Nebraska secondary coach Marvin Sanders.
Experience is a welcome commodity when you’re about to lose what Nebraska will from its secondary.
With star cornerback Prince Amukamara topping the list of departing players, Nebraska’s secondary in 2011 will feature a new look, and the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Evans will be a lead candidate for a spotlight position.
So this fall’s experience was crucial for Evans, whose best performance came when the pressure was greatest, against Missouri with the Big 12 North title on the line.
When Mizzou quarterback Blaine Gabbert tested Evans deep, the corner batted away a would-be touchdown as though he’d been covering college receivers for years.
The next week against the Cyclones, he gave up a touchdown. You live and learn.
“He was put into some pretty tough situations and he responded well,” Pelini said. “The first thing you learn playing corner is to have a short memory. Guys are going to catch balls on you. If you’re playing at this level, you’re never going to be 100 percent as a cover corner.”
Early in the season, Pelini said Evans was sometimes too hard on himself when he got beat.
“That was a big coaching point for Marvin and myself,” Pelini said. “We’d talk to him, ‘Hey, man, move to the next play. You’re a talented guy. You’ve got great skills. You’re going to win more than you lose. Hang your hat on that.’ I think by late in the season that was the approach he was taking.”
Playing time won’t be easily earned. But Evans will do his football homework.
“He’s been a real good student of the game, learning from DeJon (Gomes) and Prince on how to practice and how to prepare,” Sanders said. “And I think that’s important for young guys, because they tend to not understand what it takes to get that preparation done. But I think he does.”