By Marc Narducci

By his own account, Ian Evans' football career almost ended before it had a chance to gain any momentum.

It was in the summer before his junior season at Hammonton, and Evans had second thoughts even though he had a chance to be first-string.

During weightlifting sessions in June, Evans quit the team for a week.

"I told the coach I didn't want to play anymore," Evans said. "I didn't think football was the thing for me, and at the time I was kind of lazy and it wasn't what I wanted to do."

Almost immediately, the second thoughts nagged him.

"I begged the coach to take me back," Evans said.

Hammonton coach Pete Lancetta agreed, with one stipulation.

"He said never leave again," Evans recalled.

So Evans didn't leave until finishing his career with a 23-17 win over Timber Creek in the South Jersey Group 3 championship game.

That culminated an 11-1 season for Hammonton, with a major assist from Evans. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Evans is a hybrid player as a defensive end or linebacker. And either way he lined up, there was usually a direct path to the quarterback.

As a senior, Evans had 17 sacks, seven hurries, two forced fumbles, and 52 tackles. As a tight end on offense he caught 17 passes for 360 yards and three touchdowns.

During the summer, he made an oral commitment to attend the University of Maryland, completing a rather remarkable turnaround - from a brief retirement from football the year before to accepting a football scholarship.

Considering the doubts Evans had earlier in his playing career, he admitted that winning a championship as a senior was something he appreciated much more.

"I think back how I was slacking off earlier in my career," he said. "I didn't care and I do regret not giving 100 percent in those years."

Still, he has made the most of the second chance.

"He has come a long way," Lancetta said. "We always thought he had the ability, but he had to get more consistent."

Lancetta feels there was a simple explanation for the inconsistency.

"He lacked self-confidence as a freshman," Lancetta said. "He had no idea how good he was."

Evans enjoyed a strong junior year on both sides of the ball, but he didn't view it as anything special. It was after the season that Evans realized that others were noticing his performance.

"After his junior year we put [together] a highlight tape, and he's 6-3, 235 and could run," Lancetta said. "That is enticing to a lot of colleges, and he was getting a lot of looks."

Evans said that among the other schools he considered were Rutgers, Temple, and Syracuse, but he was simply drawn to Maryland.

"I really liked Maryland and it was such a great feeling to know that this was taken care of before the start of my senior season," he said.

It was sort of the same feeling that Evans felt after walking off the field following his final high school game. A year ago, Hammonton had lost to undefeated Shawnee, 28-7, in the South Jersey Group 3 final.

After that loss, Evans had one clear goal - to return to the title game and earn a different result.

"When we won it this year, it was the best feeling I had in sports," he said. "I never won a championship in anything, and it felt really good."