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Past adversity drives Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s Mark Evans II toward NFL draft

Offensive lineman’s family lost home, all belongings in Hurricane Harvey

Six years ago, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff offensive lineman Mark Evans II was a teenager living in one room with four relatives in Houston after a hurricane destroyed everything they owned. Now he’s on the cusp of another life-changing event.  

In February, Evans will participate in several big events in hopes of strengthening his stock for the NFL draft in April: the East-West Shrine Bowl in Las Vegas; the HBCU Legacy Bowl in New Orleans and the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. He is the first Arkansas-Pine Bluff player to receive an invite to the combine since Terron Armstead in 2013.

Evans is now on a daily training schedule in Dallas with respected NFL trainer Duane “Duke” Manyweather and Armstead, who is serving as a mentor for Evans in preparation for the bowl games and the combine.

“The work isn’t finished yet,” said Evans. “I still have to go out there and produce because I still have a destination to reach.”

Being drafted would put an exclamation point on Evans’ dominant career at Pine-Bluff, where he was a four-time All-SWAC First Team honoree. 

As a sophomore in 2019, Evans started every game at left tackle, assisting a UAPB offense to at least 400 yards in eight games. After the 2020 season was postponed, he helped lead the Golden Lions to the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game against Alabama A&M in the spring of 2021; the offense allowed only four sacks on 150 passing attempts that season. In the fall 2021 season, he allowed only one sack and won the Willie Roaf Award, honoring the top offensive lineman in Arkansas and named after the Pine Bluff native and 1993 first-round draft pick. In his final season with the Golden Lions, Evans allowed only two sacks while anchoring an offensive line that helped produce 1,702 rushing yards and 22 rushing touchdowns.

The 6-foot-4 lineman describes his style of play as a more aggressive balanced style with a touch of finesse, but he also adds speed into his blocking, making it challenging for defenders. His mobility is also excellent for his size, according to his high school coach Oluwasegun Adebayo. 

“The way Mark completed his tenure at UAPB created an excellent opportunity for the light of the university,” said Arkansas-Pine Bluff athletic director Chris Robinson. “One thing about Mark, he accomplished everything he did for our university with class and elegance. He represents the university well off the field in conjunction with what he does on the field, and we’re excited about his future and what he’s doing.”

Evans’ achievements at Pine-Bluff were difficult for him to envision during high school. 

In 2017, Category 4 Hurricane Harvey struck the Houston area, causing a flash flood that destroyed Evans’ home.

“Before I went to sleep one night, the water was at my ankle, and when I woke up the next morning, the water was at the height of my bed,” said Evans. “It eventually came to a point where we had to leave our house and everything in it.”

Seeking a safe place to stay, Evans and his family walked through the floodwaters to the George R. Brown Convention Center, a designated refuge for flood victims, carrying only enough belongings to fit in one tote bag.

“The water was so high that my children had to hold me to ensure I didn’t get caught in the current,” said his mother, Janice Perry.

After the family spent a few nights at the convention center, Perry’s coworker allowed them to stay at his home. As the family worked to regroup, Evans worried about whether he would get a chance to play football in his senior year at C.E. King High School – he hoped to earn a college scholarship and get out of Houston.

“The way he carried himself through the whole situation was the strongest I’ve ever seen,” said his younger brother Jessie Evans.

At the end of his senior year, Evans committed to play football at Navarro College in Texas before he received a call from an Arkansas-Pine Bluff recruiter.

“I remember going on the visit to Pine Bluff with Mark, and they wanted him so badly that his recruiter used his points for the hotel to stay at during the visit,” Adebayo said.

With the adversity he has faced never far from his memory, Evans feels ready for the challenges of NFL life both on and off the field – and he hopes to pave the way for his younger brother, who currently plays football at Prairie View A&M University, to follow in his footsteps.

“I want to set the example for my little brother and show him that he, too, can create a successful path for himself,” Evans said.

Kalan Hooks is a part of ESPN’s Next Program. He hails from Kansas City, Missouri, and is a graduate of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. He loves all things HBCUs and the dark HBCU marching band sound, and he still gets buckets in his spare time.