Ernest Evans ’16 remembered for compassion and competitive spirit
Friends and family of Ernest Evans II ’16 recall him as confident, competitive, compassionate and curious.
Nearly three years into the former Big Green quarterback’s recovery from a traumatic brain injury, Evans died suddenly on April 1. He was 25.
Details from his life-threatening 2017 incident remain uncertain. Evans had just graduated from Dartmouth and was living in Los Angeles. An hour after leaving Jvonte Brooks ’15’s birthday party, a 911 call was placed alerting authorities that a man, Evans, was found lying in the street. What happened in that hour remains unclear, but police do not suspect foul play.
“To this day, I don’t understand,” Sonya Evans, his mother, said. “I don’t understand what happened on June 11, 2017, and I go back to that every day. If I only knew what happened to my son, our son, my child, God’s son. It may be something I’ll never know, but he’s in a better place. No more suffering, no more pain and no more holding on for his family and friends. He’s free. He’s free indeed.”
Evans grew up in Houston. He is survived by his father, Ernest Evans Sr., his mother, Sonya Evans and his four siblings: Emerald, Ezekiel, Faith and Jamar. He had a strong love for his family and a smile that Evans Sr. said “just wouldn’t wait.”
Evans’ inquisitive nature was apparent early on. Ernest Evans Sr. recalls his young son asking, “Why is the sky blue?”
“For a three or four year old, that’s kind of a different sort of question,” Ernest Evans Sr. said. “And I recall having some type of answer … and at the end, he says, ‘Dad, you’re pretty smart.’”
Evans was home-schooled through first grade, and he tested out of second grade upon moving to public elementary school, skipping ahead to third. Sonya Evans recalled her son’s teachers pointing out his desire for excellence as he grew older.
“When it was like parent-teacher meetings, it was always a thing that the teacher pointed out,” Sonya Evans said. “‘Ernest is such a perfectionist. He wants to do everything so right.’”
According to his father, Evans started playing football when he was about nine years old. This was on the older side for children in Texas, who typically start playing flag football at age five or six. Even after he started playing, Evans didn’t prioritize football. His mother recalled track and field being his first focus, though that changed when he entered high school. She said that she did everything to support his goals, starting with his fitness.
“Getting the body that he wanted — or what I thought he would want — to be big enough to not get hurt — that’s all I was aiming for,” Sonya Evans said. “Just to be safe and have enough meat on your muscles to protect yourself.”
Before his senior year of high school, Evans transferred from Westbury Christian School to its biggest rival, Second Baptist School, to get more exposure playing quarterback. After the transfer, playing at Dartmouth became a possibility. Jarrail Jackson, a former Big Green wide receivers coach, was roommates in college with a coach at Second Baptist. According to Ernest Evans Sr., his son was recruited after Jackson got word of his “smarts along with the ability to play up in the Ivy League.”
“From there, it was, as I call it, a love affair with the Dartmouth family,” Ernest Evans Sr. said.
On the field, things in Hanover were not as rosy as during his recruitment process. Evans entered the Dartmouth football program alongside quarterback Dalyn Williams ’16, who set numerous Big Green passing records and went on to sign an NFL free agent deal. As a result, Evans received little playing time throughout his Dartmouth career. Most of his playing time came on the junior varsity team, where Evans helped carry the team to wins over Bridgton Academy, Middlebury College and Williams College over two seasons.
“I think it was a little bit disappointing and heartbreaking, because Ernest’s goal was always to play quarterback, be this famous quarterback [and] work hard at being the best quarterback,” Sonya Evans said.
But Evans always competed with Williams and pushed him to be better, according to Ernest Evans Sr. He said that the two once shared a Spanish class at Dartmouth, and even though Williams was Evans’ main competitor at quarterback, Evans reached out to help him with the coursework and material.
“[Hearing that made] me very proud of my son,” Ernest Evans Sr. said.
Evans’ teammates, including Chai Reece ’15, suggested to him that he could consider a position change to get more time on the field.
“But Ernest was always adamant,” Reece said. “He loved the quarterback position. He loved everything that came with being quarterback, and we couldn’t knock him for it because he had a hell of an arm. We, too, wanted to see our guy get some play time and on the field because we knew how much he wanted to play.”
Off the field, Evans studied economics and made many close friends, including Reece and Brooks, with whom he lived post-college.
“We had a whole crew of four or five of us,” Reece said. “We always stuck together. It became a thing where we were always going to eat, going to Foco or Hop or Collis together.”
Evans and Reece would often talk about living in Los Angeles as adults, and they made it happen after graduation. Evans got a job as an underwriter at General Reinsurance Corporation and moved out west.
“If you spend four years at Dartmouth, you make very close friends — probably some of your best friends that you’ve had in your lifetime,” Reece said. “And, you get to move in with them after college, you know? It was a dream situation, dream scenario.”
As Reece recalled, Evans’ selflessness shined when they were looking for places to live. After Evans and Brooks found a three-bedroom spot for roughly the same price as a two-bedroom apartment, Evans invited Reece to live with them and offered to cover his rent because Reece was still trying to play professional football and had “more money going out than coming in.”
“He took it upon himself to make sure I was good and covered while I was pursuing my dream,” Reece said. “I’m forever thankful and grateful that I have friends like that. That just kind of speaks to who Ernest was … He wanted to make sure I was happy, comfortable, pursuing my goals. It was like he was my little brother. But it was almost like he was looking out for me, like he was my big brother.”
Sonya Evans described her reaction to reading cards from his friends after his death, and many of them expressed the same sentiments as in Reece’s story. She said that she was “shocked” by the response “but not surprised” about what his friends had to say about him.
“Sometimes I had no idea the type of young man that Ernest would become when it came down to friendships and connections and other people in his life,” she said. “He would go out of his way. He was always one to start a conversation, or he was always one to be a friend to someone else before they would call him their friend. I’m just honored to hear all of the great things said about him.”
“I’m honored to be his mother, and for them to talk like that about him leaves me speechless,” Sonya Evans added.
Evans’ traumatic accident upended life for him and his family. His father and younger brother, Ezekiel, left quickly for Los Angeles to be by his bedside, staying with Brooks and Reece.
“I didn’t really let myself too much feel extremely negative thoughts regarding it,” Reece said. “You bottle them up when your best friend is fighting for his life. I found that focusing on the action of helping him get back, helping him beat the situation and assisting his family in any way — that’s exactly what he would do.”
Evans’ mother had recently undergone bilateral knee surgery and could not see him until he returned to Houston months later.
“The day that I drove up [to the hospital] — the day that he arrived — I was so happy to now finally see him,” Sonya Evans said. “But that second day, I came to the hospital that morning, and, oh dear God, I lost it on the other side of the curtain. When I saw two nurses literally have to move my child from one side to the other side to care for him and clean him up — where he couldn’t move a muscle. I lost it.’”
Over time, Evans improved significantly, well beyond what the doctors initially expected. His parents said that by the end, Evans was able to walk, speak and eat small bits of food. But after nearly three years of gradual recovery, Evans suddenly died last month.
“I always taught him at a young age, ‘Wherever you go son, please, do this for me. Make a mark that will never be erased,’” Sonya Evans said. “And I believe, to this day, that’s exactly what Ernest did … I will be proud ‘til the day I die to be his mother and to know that he did all that he could do in the time that he was allowed to do it ... And I love him from the bottom of my heart to the soles of my feet.”