(Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories profiling the 2023 inductees into the Anne Arundel County Sports Hall of Fame).
Before he became a collegiate All-American or a professional all-star, Michael Evans was a football player struggling to learn how to play lacrosse.
Evans had never picked up a stick before moving to Anne Arundel County in middle school. He started playing lacrosse in eighth grade with the Davidsonville Athletic Association and loved that the speed and physicality of the game were similar to football.
Evans described himself as still “super-raw” after making the South River High varsity as a sophomore. “I relied on my athleticism because I had no stick skills. I couldn’t catch or throw or pick up ground balls,” he said.
Evans, a 2005 South River graduate, credits his coaching staff — Troy Smith, Greg Speed and Steve Marohl — with teaching him the fundamentals of the game and laying the foundation for future success.
“I really owe a debt of gratitude to those guys because they made me into a halfway decent lacrosse player,” Evans said.
That said, Evans was known mostly as a standout football player at South River. He was a two-year starter at tailback, rushing for nearly 2,000 yards and 35 touchdowns over his final two years as a Seahawk despite missing seven games with an injury.
“I definitely thought I was going to play football in college. That was my goal,” said Evans, who was recruited by numerous Division I-AA (now Football Championship Subdivision) schools.
Meanwhile, college lacrosse coaches showed zero interest in Evans until he played for Team Chesapeake the summer between his junior and senior seasons. He remembers the first recruiting letter for lacrosse came from Washington College.
Team Chesapeake was coached by Matt Hogan and Evans recalled telling him about the interest from the Division III school in Chestertown.
“I remember that Coach Hogan said I would be better served going to a smaller school if I really wanted to play,” Evans said.
However, Evans saw his stock rise dramatically after receiving an unexpected invitation to the prestigious Top 205 Lacrosse Camp, which in those days was the country’s premier recruiting event. Top 205 was co-owned by Maryland coach Dave Cottle and Denver coach Bill Tierney.
Evans was surprised to learn he had been selected to play in the Top 205 All-Star game, an affirmation of ability that gave him the confidence to approach Cottle. He was a huge Maryland fan growing up and dreamed of one day playing a varsity sport for the state school.
“I went up to Coach Cottle, shook his hand and told him who I was,” Evans said. “Coach Cottle said he knew I was a public school kid from Edgewater and told me he wanted to see how tough I was. I was literally gunning for guys during that whole all-star game. I fouled out because I got something like six penalties.”
Evans figured he’d blown a chance at a Division I scholarship with that thuggish performance and headed off on family vacation to the Outer Banks. Cell phones were not a big thing in those days and Evans had no idea that college coaches had been trying to contact him.
“I came home from vacation on July 6 and had 50 messages from college coaches on our answering machine. I was absolutely stunned,” he said.
Evans wound up narrowing his college choices down to Georgetown, Johns Hopkins and Maryland. His heart was set on the Terps, but coach Dave Pietramala convinced him to join the archrival Blue Jays instead.
“I went on my official visit to Hopkins and Coach Petro made it very special for me. I just felt a connection with the coaching staff that I didn’t have with the other schools,” Evans said.
It was a decision that would set Evans on a path to eventual induction into the Anne Arundel County Sports Hall of Fame. He became a three-time All-American as a close defenseman for Johns Hopkins and played a key role in adding to the history of Division I’s most storied lacrosse program.
Pietramala, now the defensive coordinator at North Carolina, said the Hopkins staff saw something special in the unheralded public school product.
“When we watched Michael play in high school, the two things that really stood out were his athleticism and competitiveness. He had great footwork and mobility, but even more impressive was the fact he was a fierce competitor,” Pietramala said. “We felt Michael had all the physical tools and mental intangibles you could not teach.”
Out of necessity, Evans moved to short stick defensive midfield as a freshman. Pietramala believes that experience benefited the collegiate rookie because opponents repeatedly tried to isolate him one-on-one.
Evans put on 40 pounds of muscle during the offseason and moved back to close defense as a sophomore. He moved into the starting lineup after Matt Drennan suffered a season-ending knee injury and flourished.
By season’s end, Evans was the team’s top man-to-man defender and found himself covering some of the nation’s top attackmen in the playoffs. He was the catalyst as the Hopkins defense held opponents to an average of 7.2 goals per game during a season-ending, nine-game winning streak.
Evans held Georgetown All-American Brendan Cannon scoreless in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals then limited National Player of the Year Matt Danowski to a goal and assist as Hopkins beat Duke in the national championship game.
Evans credits Pietramala and Hopkins defensive coordinator Bill Dwan for his rapid development. Pietramala was a three-time, first team All-American at Hopkins and is considered one of the greatest defenseman in lacrosse history. Dwan was also a three-time All-American for the Blue Jays.
“I owe everything to Coach Petro and Coach Dwan. Those guys taught me how to actually play the game and really improved my lacrosse IQ,” Evans said. “They both put a big emphasis on being a student of the game and watching film. We spent a lot of late hours in the lacrosse office talking about positioning, footwork and technique.”
Evans believes he was at his best as a junior and once again rose to the occasion during the postseason as Hopkins made another run to the national championship game. He was named to the NCAA All-Tournament team after shutting down Danowski in the semifinals and Syracuse attackman Mike Leveille in the final. Those two first team All-Americans ranked first and third, respectively, in scoring during the 2008 season.
Evans suffered a severe back injury as a senior and required regular cortisone injections every two or three weeks in order to reduce the disk pain. He played at a high level despite not being 100% physically and ultimately earned the prestigious Schmeisser Award as the most outstanding defenseman in Division I lacrosse.
Evans played in a total of 69 games and made 49 straight starts during his collegiate career.
“Michael Evans committed to being a great lacrosse player. He made himself into an All-American through hard work, dedication and determination,” Pietramala said. “Michael did whatever was asked and earned every accolade he received. We asked Michael to go out and lock down the opponent’s best attackman and he did that for three years.”
Surprisingly, Evans was only the 18th overall selection in the 2009 Major League Lacrosse collegiate draft. That’s because coaches and general managers did not believe he had the stick skills to succeed in the more wide-open, up-and-down professional game. He was picked in the second round by the Washington Bayhawks and wound up proving all the doubters wrong.
Evans was an MLL All-Star for eight of his nine seasons in the league and ranks as one of the greatest players in Bayhawks history. He played an integral role on three championship teams and served as team captain from 2010 until his retirement following the 2017 season.
Brendan Kelly, who bought the franchise in 2010 and rebranded it as the Chesapeake Bayhawks, said Evans was one of his all-time favorite players. Kelly had been a defenseman himself and loved the bruising brand of lacrosse played by Evans.
“Michael Evans embodied what the Bayhawks spirit was all about. First and foremost, he was an unbelievable teammate who brought great energy and enthusiasm to the locker room and made sure every single player on the roster mattered,” Kelly said.
“Michael was really a lynchpin of the franchise and anchor of the defense throughout his career. He was an extremely physical player who really set the tone for what our defense was all about,” Kelly added. “Whoever Michael covered was completely eliminated from the game. We never had to worry about that matchup.”
Dave Cottle competed against Evans while at Maryland then was head coach of the Bayhawks for most of his professional career.
“Mike was the ultimate cover guy at both the college and pro level. He was a tremendous on-ball defender and always took the top attackman out of the game,” Cottle said. “What made Mike really special was that he was an incredible leader and the ultimate teammate. As a coach, you want players like that on your team.”
Hall of Fame Facts
2023 Class: Michael Evans (lacrosse); George McGeeney (lacrosse); Lee Rogers (coaching); Nicole Woody (wrestling); Tim McMullen (Bernie Walter Memorial Award).
Induction Banquet: Wednesday, October 18 at the DoubleTree Hotel in Annapolis (6-10 p.m.)
Tickets: Can be purchased at https://aacshof.org/