The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

‘I’m not even supposed to be here’: Iowa senior Joe Evans reflects on his reasoning to return to the Hawkeyes this season

The defensive lineman was modest about his statistical accomplishments and more focused on his role as a team captain.
Cody Blissett
Iowa defensive end Joe Evans celebrates after forcing a safety on Illinois during a football game between Iowa and Illinois at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023. The Hawkeyes defeated the Fighting Illini, 15-13.

After his last-ever game at Kinnick Stadium, Iowa defensive end Joe Evans looked like he had just played in the Black and Gold for the first time. The only difference: six years of experience under his belt and a Big Ten Championship hat atop his head. 

Smiling ear-to-ear, Evans greeted media members before he even reached the podium. 

“How ’bout them Hawks?” he inquired to the cameras. 

Gripping a water bottle in his right hand, Evans began pounding the plastic on the podium for emphasis while answering the first two questions. 

“I have to drop [the water bottle], I’m just so fired up.” 

A former walk-on from Ames, Iowa, Evans had plenty of reason for emotion. With four total tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a safety, and three pass breakups, the sixth-year senior was a profound part of the Hawkeye defense in Iowa’s 15-13 win over Illinois on Saturday. 

But for Evans, choosing to use that extra year of eligibility wasn’t about padding his stats. In fact, when asked to describe his highlights, Evans was quick to laud his teammates.

On his sack of Illini QB John Paddock in the end zone during the first quarter, Evans explained Iowa was running a defensive-line scheme similar to that of Ohio State, where one D-lineman would take on a double team to allow the other a path to the quarterback. 

“I’m going to give credit to [Deontae] Craig on that one,” he said. “He picked the [offensive] tackle, I just wrapped around it and was able to make the play. That was a huge play for us.” 

As for his pass breakup on fourth-and-2 to seal the victory for the Hawkeyes, Evans said he felt like a linebacker again, a position he played during his first-year redshirt season in 2018. Standing at six-foot-2 and 252 pounds, Evans is the shortest member of Iowa’s starting defensive front but enjoys being the anomaly. 

“[Iowa linebacker] Nick Jackson came up to me and said, ‘I’ve never seen a six-foot defensive end bat a ball down,’ so I laugh about that,” Evans said with a grin. “I saw a short throw, threw my hands up, now I have a smoking forearms, but hell yeah.”

Yet before Evans got the opportunity to make those plays, he had to choose whether or not to use his extra year of eligibility. That decision-making process involved talks with fellow defensive lineman Noah Shannon. The pair shared a phone call prior to the start of the season, where they agreed they would only return to Iowa City if the other did. 

Another critical component to Evans’ return was the advice of Iowa strength and conditioning director ​​Raimond Braithwaite. The defensive lineman said he visited Braithwaite’s office “at least five times” last season to talk about a potential return.

Prior to the game against the Illini, Evans said he told the coach he couldn’t stand next to him in warmups, simply knowing he would lose his composure being in the company of someone so meaningful to his career. 

Yet the most essential part of returning to the Hawkeyes was the opportunity to be a team captain. Evans expressed that desire to his parents, Braithwaite, and Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz. Calling the honor “earned, not given,” Evans said being a captain was the biggest accomplishment of his football career.

“Leading a team that’s battled through so much adversity, kind of just thinking to myself like, ‘I’m a walk-on. I’m not supposed to be here.’” 

Calling himself a “rah-rah guy,” Evans’ leadership doesn’t go unnoticed by his teammates.

“He’s done speeches the whole week, the whole year,” fellow senior defensive lineman Logan Lee said. “He’s been a great leader, a great captain for us, and he’s done a great job of firing us up. He had a heck of a game, play after play when we needed him the most, he was able to step up. Just super proud of him.” 

Two months ago, inside the bowels of Beaver Stadium, Evans wasn’t donning a championship hat, but rather a drenched jersey and the weight of a crushing 31-0 defeat at the hands of Penn State. After that loss, any talk of a Big Ten West title would seem foolish, but not for Evans. 

Insisting the team would only become stronger after that contest, Evans said no Hawkeyes were pointing fingers. Instead, the team will stay united and keep its gaze directed at Indianapolis. 

“I said, ‘All of our goals are still out there in front of us. We can still be Big Ten West champs, we can still be Big Ten champs,’” Evans remembered. “Some people laughed at that. But just look at us now.” 

More to Discover
About the Contributors
Matt McGowan
Matt McGowan, Pregame Editor
he/him/his Matt McGowan is The Daily Iowan's Pregame Editor. He is a sophomore double majoring in journalism and mass communications and American studies with a minor in sport studies.  This is his second year with the DI
Cody Blissett
Cody Blissett, Visuals Editor
Cody Blissett is a visual editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a third year student at the University of Iowa studying cinema and screenwriting. This is his first year working for The Daily Iowan.