"Walk-on makes good."
That's how Utah coach Kyle Whittingham describes the ascent of free safety Casey Evans, the Mountain West Conference's defensive player of the week.
The junior, who was awarded a scholarship last winter, made a career-high 12 tackles in Thursday's 38-35 win over Air Force.
"He's just gotten better and better," Whittingham said.
"Nobody works harder than Casey Evans, and nobody has a better work ethic than Casey Evans. So it doesn't surprise me that he's gotten to the level he has. He's got such a tremendous desire and ability."
Whittingham said the Olympus High product is a student of the game, who studies film and does everything he can to make himself better.
Evans is Utah's second-leading tackler with 32 stops this season. He also has two interceptions, two tackles-for-loss and a quarterback sack.
"Some players have a knack for being in the right place at the right time and being playmakers," Whittingham said. "Casey Evans is one of those guys."
In the Air Force game, Evans intercepted a pass on the 2-yard line and recovered an onside kick to thwart a late rally by the Falcons. A few weeks earlier, he preserved the victory over Arizona by picking off a pass. He did so with a meniscus tear that required surgery.
Evans helped the Utes reach the Fiesta Bowl as a sophomore. Prior to that he made a memorable play in the 2003 game at BYU. His fumble recovery in the fourth quarter allowed the Utes to run out the clock in a 3-0 victory that put an end to the Cougars' ongoing NCAA-record scoring streak.
Despite his heroics on the field, Evans lists just being on the team as his biggest thrill. He spurned offers from Utah State, Weber State and Dixie College in order to walk on at his favorite school.
"Growing up, I always wanted to be a Ute," said Evans, who enjoys playing in front of a hometown crowd and his family. "I always thought I could play. I think I earned my shot by working hard in practice."
Giving 100 percent on scout teams, during practices and in the weight room, Evans added, got him noticed and created opportunities for playing time. Hard work is the secret to his success.
"There's not a lot of guys who can handle his workload," Whittingham said. "We've had some great safeties that have played here. Casey Evans is doing the things we need him to do from a production standpoint. He's making plays. He's tough. He's dependable.
"In addition to what he he's doing on defense," Whittingham continued. "He's still doing all those things on special teams that he's done for years."
Last week's win over Air Force, however, was something special.
"It was a tough, physical game," Evans said. "It felt great. After the game I felt like I left it all on the field."
League headquarters agreed and named the former walk-on as its defensive player of the week, joining fellow safety Eric Weddle (Sept. 6) as Utah's defensive honorees this season.
"I don't know if I've arrived. You always want to get better," Evans said. "It's just a tribute to the team defense. Everybody does their job and it puts me in position to make a play. And if I'm in position, I better make a play."
Evans has helped fill a void created by the graduation of 2004 MWC co-defensive player of the year Morgan Scalley.
"It's what I wanted to do," Evans explained. "If I can do what Morgan did, I'd be very grateful. I learned a lot from Scalley and (Dave) Revill. I've also learned a lot from Weddle. I've been fortunate to have those guys around me."
The transition has been smooth. Quite smooth, in fact.
"No doubt about it. (Casey) gives us a good tandem there paired up with Eric," Whittingham said. "I feel for about the fourth year in a row, now, we have the best pair of safeties in the conference."
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