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This item appeared in The Times & Free Press on Saturday, January 1, 2000.

[Times & Free Press: Departed Evans a Nebraska Rallying Point]

Departed Evans a Nebraska Rallying Point

Assistant Sports Editor

TEMPE, Ariz. -- A year ago on its way to a national football championship, Tennessee had its "cenergy stick" and its 13-step ladder.

Every team, lucky or otherwise, needs a rallying point. The 1998 Vols used the graduation of some stars such as quarterback Peyton Manning and linebacker Leonard Little as well as a walking stick given to head coach Phillip Fulmer.

This year's Nebraska team, posting its 11th victory with a Big 12 Conference championship win over Texas, in a different way used Deangelo Evans, an I-back who had started three games in 1998.

Though the likely starter in '99, Evans decided to leave Nebraska. He eventually wound up transferring to Division II Emporia State in Kansas.

"There was some backwash. It didn't sit well. Usually, as a team you're happy for everybody on the team, but I don't think that was the case this time," Cornhuskers quarterback Eric Crouch said.

Evans had rushed for 776 yards as a true freshman in '96, then sat out '97 after a serious groin injury. Last year, when Nebraska happened to finish 9-4, he was limited to the three starts because of a tailbone injury and turf toe.

Though it had been two seasons since he'd made a major contribution to the program, Evans made some disparaging comments about Nebraska falling from its annual national perch without his presence.

Bingo! A serious rallying point.

"I think a lot of people realized that there was a bigger picture than yourself," Crouch said. "That first day (after Evans' departure), we went into meetings and didn't know what to expect. But it made a difference out there on the field. Everybody was playing for one another."

Dan Alexander, who had shared the I-back position with Evans, is even more certain that Evans' decision to leave, the process around his decision and the results of that decision were major factors in Nebraska's '99 goals.

'We came together, and it was pretty much after the whole thing with him," Alexander said. "As a team, we were talking about whether we wanted him back and what we decided was, 'Hey, if anybody else wants to leave, leave now.'

"We felt we had to set a policy on how we as a team would handle such things in the future, and we decided at the time that if someone wants to quit, it's hard for them to come back," said the 6-foot, 245-pounder who'll be challenging Tennessee's defense Sunday night.

"There are a few guys on the team who have very hard feelings about it. It doesn't promote unity to have a guy on your team who tried to quit at one point. You're going to wonder if the guy is in it for himself or for all of us," Alexander said.

A decision made not just by the coaches but by the team had the desired effect.

"We didn't want people here who were in it for themselves. We wanted to make sure that all the guys had one goal and that was a national championship, so, yeah, it became a rallying point," Alexander said. "We got everybody focused on that main goal, and that was to be a great team and to promote the program rather than ourselves."

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