Nico Evans Doesn't Block Much Anymore, Too Busy Gaining Yards

Wyoming running back Nico Evans should be enjoying this season.

But he can’t.

It’s not in his DNA.

The blocking back in the Cowboys offensive alignment in the past, he not only won the battle for the starting job this season, but he is leading the Mountain West conference in rushing with 612 yards.

And that’s despite the fact, he missed two full games and nearly a half of another, coming out five plays into the second half of the Cowboys game against Washington State with bruised ribs that also forced him to miss games at Missouri and at home against Wofford.

The Cowboys, however, are 2-4, and that, said Evans, is what matters.

“Stats are cool,” said Evans, “but the only stat that matters to me is the wins and losses column. That’s disappointing.”

The 5-foot-9, 211-pound Evans, however, has been far from disappointing.

The Cowboys running game never got going last year. Trey Woods led the team with 493 yards. Woods (493), Kellen Overstreet (481) and Evans (70) combined for only 993 yards in 13 games, including the Famous Potato Bowl.

Evans, in fact, in his first three years carried the ball only 36 times in 37 games, and gained 108 yards.

In the spring, though, the door was wide open. Evans took advantage of the opportunity.

And he hasn’t slowed down since.

Coach Craig Bohl made that apparent in the aftermath of last Saturday’s 14-10 loss at Hawaii, in which the only touchdown came on an interception return by defensive end Carl Granderson.

Evans did rush for 192 yards, two more than his season-opening effort at New Mexico State. He also rushed for 141 yards on 12 carries the week before against Boise State. Oh, and in that game against Washington State, he had 89 yards with 27 minutes, 23 seconds to play when he was injured.

“I think we’re sputtering,” Bohl said of the Cowboys’ offense. “Statistics don’t line. We’re struggling as far as point production. We’re struggling as far as pass completion. I think there are some bright spots.”

And the brightest is Evans.

“We can’t be one dimensional,” said Bohl. “We have to open up the playbook more this week, (but) when you have a talented running back like Nico, we need to utilize that as a weapon. “

In Evans’ first two years, he was stuck behind Brian Hill, who is currently on the Atlanta Falcons taxi squad. A year ago, he settled in behind bigger backs, which, as it turns out, didn’t mean they were stronger or faster or more determined.

When the job was open for 2018, Evans made sure he wasn’t lost in the shuffle again.

“I am different physically,” he admitted. “I am faster than I was the last three years. Let’s not get that confused, though. In my head, I always felt I had this ability. This year, though, I feel I am a better leader. I feel those leadership skills really propelled me into getting more playing time.”

That’s fine, but there also was the need for physical development, too, and Evans knew that.

He wasn’t going to let anything get by him in his bid to prove he was worthy of the primary running back role.

“I definitely have been through hard time in terms of playing time,” he said. “People would say I am surprised (at the turn of events this year), but no, I worked hard for this in the off-season. I worked hard for it in the spring. When I was named the starter, I knew it was time.

“My confidence is being rewarded in that aspect.”

The bigger aspect, however, is the wins and losses of the team, not his yardage totals.

There are six games remaining in the season. For Evans, they are a focus.

“We aren’t where we are supposed to be and we aren’t where we want to be, but every week I see us getting better at something,” Evans said of the offense. “Whether it is blocking, timing, being a better leader, we are on the right path. We aren’t there yet. Watching that growth is the most satisfying (thing about this season).”

There, however, is room for a bigger satisfaction.

There is room for wins.

And that, Evans knows, is the ultimate bottom line.

Tracy RingolsbyComment