The term student-athlete is overused by the NCAA, sometimes to the point of nausea.
But applied to Nebraska junior defensive back Ciante Evans on the football field, it fits.
This athlete has become a student of the game.
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Evans is a cornerback and nickel back for the Huskers. Last week — after Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis torched Nebraska with five catches for 107 yards and a touchdown in the first half — Evans told coaches, “I got this.”
Evans helped hold Abbrederis to just two catches for 35 yards in the second half.
That didn’t happen by accident.
“You’ve got to know what’s coming before the actual play happens,” Evans said. “In college, everybody is fast and everybody is good. You have to find a different way to be better than your opponent. You need to study film, the routes they run and their tendencies.”
In position meetings, Nebraska’s defensive backs will spend at least an hour watching game video of their next opponent.
“I studied all of Wisconsin’s wide receivers, not just Abbrederis,” Evans said. “You need to know the offense, what they do in certain personnel groupings, their splits. Those things dictate a lot of the routes they run. Sometimes they’re limited to certain routes on the boundaries, things like that.”
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Nebraska defensive backs coach Terry Joseph said he has focused on making sure his players learn something from each play they watch on video.
“You can watch the film or you can learn from the film,” Joseph said. “I’ve been trying to help all the guys learn from what they’re watching, not just spending the hour watching plays to say you’ve watched it. I want them looking at each play, each split, each route, learning a certain point on every play. They’ve taken more upon themselves to become better film watchers, and it helps in how we play.”
Joseph, who left the University of Tennessee to join the Nebraska coaching staff in March, was familiar with Evans because he spent time recruiting the former Juan Seguin High School standout in Arlington, Texas. The first Husker video Joseph watched was the one SEC-related game he had — Nebraska’s loss to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl — and when he arrived in Lincoln he consulted with head coach Bo Pelini and defensive coordinator John Papuchis about Evans and the rest of the returning secondary.
“When I got here I thought Ciante was probably a guy who was just kind of still thinking too much out there," Joseph said. "That was the biggest challenge he faced last year. This summer and in the offseason, he’s done a tremendous job learning what we want out of him. He took ownership of the nickel position, then went in and played well at corner last week.”
Evans, who started seven games at corner last season, has 15 tackles, five pass breakups, one interception and one quarterback hurry in the first five games this year.
“The first thing you want out of a nickel is probably some instincts, a guy who can figure out what’s going on, because there are some run fits he has to be involved in,” Joseph said. “The big thing about Ciante is that he has great instincts that allow him to play and not panic in that situation.
“Playing defensive back is probably 60 percent instinct, 40 percent knowledge. You get a lot of guys that have the knowledge and know what they’re supposed to do but don’t have the instincts to anticipate that it’s about to happen. It’s like a guy being street smart and book smart. You have to have a little bit of both.”
A little confidence doesn’t hurt, either, as Evans showed when assuring coaches he could cover Abbrederis. Confidence, and a short-term memory.
“No doubt, confidence is the key to playing defensive back,” Evans said. “You can’t get too high or too low, because sometimes you’re going to get beat. They’re on scholarship just like you’re on scholarship. But you have to have confidence. They’re going to make plays, you just have to get the next play, you know?”