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Rivalry rethought

High school adversaries now teammates — and friends

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Steve Tate, left, and Casey Evans were rivals in high school. Both are currently starting on the U. defense.

Steve Tate, left, and Casey Evans were rivals in high school. Both are currently starting on the U. defense.

August Miller, Deseret Morning News

Growing up in Holladay less than two miles apart, Steve Tate and Casey Evans didn't like each other very much.

They played on different teams in little league baseball and football, and being top players of their respective teams made them aware of each other. When they got to high school, they were on opposite sides of the bitter Skyline-Olympus rivalry.

"We never really liked each other," Evans said. "Growing up, we always had that Skyline-Olympus bitterness. You're supposed to hate the other team, that kind of a deal. We knew each other, but didn't like each other."

Said Tate: "We had a bit of a rivalry growing up. He went to Olympus and I went to Skyline, so naturally we had that rivalry and competitive spirit between us. We have a little history between us."

The two rivals ended up walking on to the University of Utah football team at different times and are now the best of friends as starters on the Ute defense, even if Tate has moved Evans out of his old position.

Because the Utes wanted to get Tate on the field at safety alongside Eric Weddle, Evans has been moved to one of the linebacker spots. So even though Evans weighs in at just 200 pounds, he is now the rover linebacker, taking over the spot occupied by 235-pound Spencer Toone last year.

"Our goal is to get the best 11 guys on the field," Utah defensive coordinator Gary Andersen said. "Casey and Steve are both great tacklers with great minds and are two of our best 11 defenders."

Though he was a bit wary at first, Evans is making the transition nicely this fall — and the Utah defense will be better for it.

"We needed to get our best 11 on the field, and Steve's one of the best 11," Evans said. "He was playing so well. We needed to find a spot for him, so I needed to move to linebacker."

That the two have ended up as starters together is remarkable, considering where they started.

Coming out of high school, neither Evans nor Tate was offered a scholarship at Utah, even though both had grown up as Ute fans and were all-state football players.

Evans had offers from schools such as Utah State, Weber State and Dixie State. But despite not getting a scholarship offer, he decided to walk on at Utah the next year. He had blown out his knee in a lacrosse game during the spring of his senior year, so he "grayshirted" his first year at Utah in 2002.

The next year, Urban Meyer's first, Evans started playing full-time and earned a scholarship. He saw significant action during Utah's 12-0 season in 2004, making 36 tackles. Last year, he earned second-team all-MWC honors at the strong safety position.

Tate led Skyline to an 11-2 record in 2000 and was named Mr. Football by the Deseret Morning News. However, preferring to play quarterback, he headed up to Utah State.

It turned out that Tate ended up playing defensive back at Utah State as a freshman and didn't see any future as a quarterback in Logan. He left on an LDS mission, during which time he began to have second thoughts about going back to USU.

"I grew up a Utah fan and always had it in the back of my mind I wanted to play at the U.," he said.

Tate's grandfather, Hal Tate, had played for Utah in the early 1940s and wrote to his grandson, "I'd love to see you in red." About the same time, Tate's father talked to Kyle Whittingham, who said he'd love to have Tate in the program.

With five months left on his mission, Tate e-mailed his grandfather, who was suffering from cancer, to tell him he was going to become a Ute. Just two hours later, his grandfather died, presumably with a smile on his face, knowing his grandson was going to Utah.

However, it didn't turn out to be a smooth transition for Tate, who went through winter conditioning in early 2004 and sat out that season as a redshirt without a scholarship.

"It was tough," he said. "When I was redshirting, I thought I'd made the biggest mistake of my life. But it's turned out for the best."

Tate was awarded a scholarship soon after Whittingham took over. He saw spotty action the first half of the 2005 season, playing behind Evans and Eric Weddle, but became a starter for the last four games when Weddle was moved to cornerback.

"I just kept grinding away and it definitely paid off," he said.

With three top-notch safeties, the Ute coaches decided to try Evans at linebacker midway through spring camp.

"I was a little hesitant at first," Evans said. "But I started getting more reps at the end of spring practice and feeling more comfortable. I'm excited to make the transition and make a lot of plays."

Even though he's known as a physical player, Evans says the physical nature of the position is the biggest change.

"Safety is more finesse and you're probably in on every four or five plays," he said. "But at linebacker, you're out there battling with 300-pound offensive linemen and you have to go in there and be physical. At linebacker, you're in there every single time."

Most linebackers are at least 230 pounds, but Evans checks in at just more than 200, making him likely one of the smallest linebackers in America.

"I don't know about that," Andersen said, "but he's extremely tough, and big enough to get the job done."

Evans, a senior, and Tate, a junior, are expecting big things from the Utes this year and are glad they're on the same side.

They go to lunch together a couple of times a week and call each other all the time on the phone. They say hardly a week goes by they don't talk about the Skyline-Olympus game of six years ago.

"They smoked us 35-0," Evans said. "He's always talking trash about it."

Said Tate: "It's all in good spirit."

Because they're such good friends, they can talk about stuff like that and maybe even their old little league games.

"I can't believe he's one of my best friends now," Tate said. "Starting off I would never have thought that."

E-mail: sor@desnews.com