Ryan Evans could rush a quarterback, dunk a basketball and fling a discus. Three sports covering three seasons.
When his playing days finally ended at Alma in 2005, he had produced the greatest overall athletic career in the storied history of the Airedales.
Who was the best athlete ever at your school? The sports staff of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is highlighting 14 former prep standouts.
YEAR GRADUATED 2005
SPORTS PLAYED Football, Basketball and Track and Field
WHY HIM? Evans was selected All-State in football in 2003 and 2004, leading the Airedales to the state semifinals and a 12-1 record as a senior. … Was selected to both the State Tournament Team and All-State in 2005 after helping lead the Airedales to their first state basketball championship and a 26-4 record as a senior. … Won the high jump with a leap of 6-6 and discus with a toss of 159-11 at the Class AAAA state track meet in 2005 and helped the Airedales to their first state track and field championship in 2004 and then again in 2005. … Finished second in the discus at the Class AAAA state track meet in both 2004 and 2003. … Is the school’s all-time sack leader with 22-1/2. … Played in the 2005 AHSCA All-Star football game.
September 27, 2002: Alma defensive end Ryan Evans (8) and defensive back Jake Terry (19) combine to bring down Harrison running back Justin McCutchen (28) in Alma.
"When you look at the wide variety of sports that Ryan participated in and how successful both the teams that he played on and he was as an individual, you can make the case for him to be the best athlete that I'm aware of that's participated in athletics at Alma High School," said Mike McSpadden, retired athletic director and former basketball coach. "He was such a rare combination of size, and strength, and speed and athletic ability."
Evans even figured out at an early age some of the intricate workings of sports.
He knew the quicker his team got three outs, the sooner he would get to bat again.
That really worked out well when he caught a line drive and started a triple play in T-ball.
It was football, basketball, and track and field in which he really excelled, though.
"I agree with that," said Brooks Witherspoon, Alma's defensive coordinator until 2005 and now an assistant at Southside. "When I saw a tweet on the Best Ever, he was the first one I thought of for Alma. He could do anything. He excelled at everything."
The success that Evans had from start to finish of his senior year, from August through May, is one for the ages.
"I've had people tell me that if I had focused on just one sport that I could have had more success at the next level," Evans said. "I have three state championship rings and was chosen all-state six times. It's hard to say that I could have given that up to focus just on college football or just one of those things. I got to be a part of some really special teams."
His senior football season began with a 16-8 win over rival Van Buren, and the regular season ended with another win over a rival with a 17-14 win against Greenwood for the conference championship.
Alma led 17-14 and was driving but lost a fumble with 4:44 left, leaving the door open for Greenwood.
On the next play, Evans sacked quarterback Daniel Stegall for a loss of eight yards back to the 10. On third down, Evans ended the drive with another sack for a loss of five yards back to the 4. Greenwood was forced to punt, and Alma ran out the clock to cinch an unbeaten regular season. Getting quarterback sacks are hard. When the quarterback was a player who signed to play football at the University of Miami, it was even harder.
"I can't remember a lot of things, but I remember those two sacks," Witherspoon said. "On the second one, he made a move and came under the tackle and smoked Stegall. I remember that. He was really something."
Evans remembers the sacks as well but credits something other than great motivation or inspired play on that last defensive effort.
"Really, we just finally got on the dry end of the field," Evans said. "When I sent out my recruiting video, the second sack was my opening play."
Two weeks later, Alma hosted Pulaski Oak Grove in the second round of the playoffs. The Evans-led defense, held Darren McFadden, a future Heisman Trophy finalist, to 43 yards rushing on 10 carries and Oak Grove's lone touchdown in Alma's 31-7 win.
"We had 10,000 people there; everybody came out to see him," Evans said. "The stadium was vibrating before the game. I was really jacked up for the game. I got him early for a loss, and to me and some of my teammates I think it was like we knew he was human after that. We just got him for a loss of four yards. We had some good success against him. We had a really good defense."
The next week, Alma had to travel to Wynne and lost 14-7, giving up an interception for a touchdown in the third quarter and being stopped after having first-and-goal at Wynne's 3 in the fourth quarter.
That 2004 Alma defense was stellar, allowing just 9.6 points and 174 yards per game.
Evans, who played at 6-foot-6, 230 pounds his senior season as a defensive end, remains the Airedale's all-time sack leader with 22.5.
Evans was selected to the Arkansas Activities Association's All-State team for the second year in a row.
He quickly made the transition into basketball, and the Airedales won the AAAA-West and went into the state tournament at Greenwood with 24 wins.
In two games against Greenwood during the season, Evans had 29 points, including a fourth-quarter rim-hanging slam in the second meeting that brought the house down at Alma in February, with 15 rebounds.
In the three state tournament games leading up to the championship game, Evans averaged 15 points and five rebounds.
Alma won the state championship at North Little Rock's Alltel Arena with 73-72 win in overtime over favored and defending champion Little Rock Mills.
"We're down 17-2, and he catches it and drop-step dunks," Alma basketball coach Stan Flenor said. "He changed the momentum. We were down and struggling. He had a lot of big moments that season."
Evans scored 20 points in the game, including a basket to open overtime, and grabbed six rebounds with three assists. He was named to the State Tournament Team and All-State for the regular season.
"He was a difference-maker and a game-changer," Flenor said. "He was a high flyer, but his intangibles are immeasurable. He was a great teammate, a hard worker and a tremendous athlete for a guy that was 6-6. He could run and jump. He's gone on and became a great, young adult, too. We're awfully proud of him."
Evans certainly wasn't done with his senior season.
He then won the state meet in the high jump at 6-6 and the discus with a heave of 159-11 to lead the Airedales to the Class AAAA track and field championship for the second straight season.
"When have you ever heard of somebody combining to win two state championships, in discus and high jump," McSpadden said. "You just don't see that very often."
He represented Alma one last time in the Arkansas High School Coaches Association All-Star football game at Reynolds Stadium at the University of Arkansas that June. Evans capped his career with a win as the West defeated the East, 28-13.
"That was really cool," Evans said. "I met a lot of cool people, some that I played with at Arkansas Tech and some that I played against at Harding University and Ouachita Baptist. One of the neat things is you get to trade helmet stickers, and I've still got my helmet. I can remember a lot of the guys by the stickers on that helmet."
It's also phenomenal to think about the coaches that influenced Evans over the three sports at Alma: head football coach Frank Vines, football position coach David Hale, defensive coordinator Brooks Witherspoon, track coach Tom McMurray and head basketball coach Stan Flenor.
'There are things that I come across every day that I still think about, like coach Flenor, when I said 'yeah', he would say 'yes, sir and no, sir' just to remind me that 'yeah' isn't an appropriate answer. It's true. Those are things I'm teaching my daughter that 'yeah' is not OK," Evans said. "Those were mentors in my life."
Evans is in private business in Conway and lives in Mayflower with his wife, Jill, and daughter, Elyse.
Alma DE #8 Ryan Evans hits Paragould's QB Chris Stidham just as he pitches the ball.
Sports on 07/18/2019
Print Headline: BEST EVER! Rare Airedale