SALISBURY — David Bennett and Chip Hester, the head football coaches who preceded Curtis Walker at Catawba, had some recruiting philosophies in common.
Both believed the key to getting a recruit was recruiting the recruit’s family at least as much as the player.
“I learned a lot of recruiting from one of the best — Coach Bennett,” Walker said. “You’ve got to let the people who are close to a young man know that you care about him and that you’re going to look after him once he’s away from his family.”
Both Bennett and Hester — and now Walker — also believed you could learn a lot about a potential college football player by watching him play basketball. Basketball is relevant because a lot of D-II recruiting takes place after the prep football season is over. A basketball games provides opportunities to measure not just a potential recruit’s athleticism but also his demeanor and maturity level and the way he reponds to his coaches and works with his teammates.
When Walker and DBs coach Chris Collins went to Barnesville, Ga., located between Atlanta and Macon, to check out prospect Montravius Evans last winter, they watched Evans play basketball for the Lamar County Trojans.
“I was an all-round athlete and played anywhere from point guard to wing to center, depending on who we were playing against,” the 5-foot-11 Evans said with a smile. “The night Coach Walker was there to see me, I was playing down low against some big guys.”
Walker chuckled at that memory.
“Well, he was more of a bruiser than a scorer,” was Walker’s scouting report. “We thought he’d make a pretty good linebacker.”
Walker didn’t just stand against a wall in the basketball gym that night. He sat next to Evans’ mom in the stands, and he obviously made a good impression.
And now, as a true freshman, Evans is getting a lot of playing time for the Indians.
“I was recruited by (FCS schools) Georgia State, Georgia Southern and Alabama State,” Evans said. “I’d committed to Georgia State, but when they changed coaching staffs there, they took back my scholarship offer.”
Walker was familiar with Evans because he’d been on the recruiting radar of Western Carolina, where Walker was defensive coordinator before being hired at Catawba.
Evans, who is called “Tra” by his teammates, came to Catawba mature physically and ready to play.
“I’ve lifted weights since ninth grade, but when I got a new coach my senior year, that’s when we started lifting every day, even gamedays,” Evans said. “Some of the freshmen here tell me how much harder training is in college than high school, but for me it hasn’t been hard. I was already doing most of it.”
Senior Jacob Hanes has been fighting a knee ailment, so there have been times when Evans’ partner at inside linebacker in Catawba’s 3-4 defense has been another young guy — sophomore Edward Robinson IV.
“I come from a long line of football-playing Robinsons,” said Robinson IV, who, believe it or not, was born on the Fourth of July.
Asked if he’d ever coached anyone who had “The Fourth” at the end of his name,” Walker laughed.
“No, I haven’t,” he said. “I guess my son (Curtis II) and I have a long way to go.”
Robinson is from Florida. He didn’t get to redshirt last season, as the Indians needed help right away. He started four games as a freshman, got in on 43 tackles and had two sacks. Then he made a strong impression on the new staff in spring ball.
The shift to a 3-4 defense changed his role, but Robinson, a bright guy who had a 3.27 GPA as a freshman, has embraced it.
“When we played a 4-3, when the play went away from you, you were basically out of the play,” he said. “Playing inside in the 3-4, I’ve got a chance to make a play anywhere on the field. That’s what I like most about this defense.”
Robinson, who was recruited by former linebackers coach Todd McComb, had one of his best games in Catawba’s 38-31 win against Mars Hill on Saturday that pushed the Indians to a 5-4 record. He was in on eight tackles to tie junior inside linebacker Jason Taylor for the team high.
“Our mindset coming in was that it would be a tough, physical game, and on their second play, I got a hard hit on their running back (Shaq Davis),” Robinson said. “That jump-started me to have a good game.”
Evans said no one particular play stood out for him Saturday, but he thoroughly enjoyed the way Catawba finished strong.
“We’ve come together a lot as a defense,” he said. “The last time Mars Hill had the ball, I could tell 10 guys had my back out there. We were one unit, and that’s what we always talk about. Eleven pulling together is a great feeling. There’s really nothing like it.”
Evans and Robinson are part of a serious youth movement at Catawba. The present isn’t bad. The future could be special.
“Evans and Robinson are not huge guys, 200-pounders, but they have enough size and they have speed,” Walker said. “Inside linebackers have to be strong enough to take on offensive linemen or fullbacks, but the key to a good inside linebacker is being able to move literally. These two guys can really do that, and they’re going to help Catawba football have a bright future.”