TAMPA — They have found success down different paths in different sports, but Bucs receiver Mike Evans and Phillies rookie Nick Williams go back far enough to have rivalries as toddlers.
"That's my guy," Evans said. "I have a picture of me and him when we were 2-3 years old, in day care together. We used to fight in day care. He always said he used to win. You can't remember back that far."
Growing up in Galveston, Texas, the two starred together at Ball High School, playing basketball and football together, dangerous as forwards and receivers.
"He's a freak athlete," Evans said of Williams, who is a lanky 6 feet 3 and 195 pounds. "He's a beast. I know him and his family real well, real good friends. I'm just so proud of him."
Williams and Evans — now 6 feet 5 and 231 pounds — found their success on simultaneous timelines, each taking major steps at different stages. Evans graduated from Ball in summer 2011, a year ahead of Williams, but redshirted his first year at Texas A&M.
Williams had thought of joining Evans with the Aggies, but was drafted in baseball in the second round in 2012, earning a $500,000 signing bonus. Evans found stardom that fall as the top target in Johnny Manziel's Heisman Trophy season, and would go to the Bucs in the first round of the 2014 and set the team record for receiving touchdowns with 12 as a rookie, making the Pro Bowl in his third year.
Williams moved up through the minors, logging 2,283 at-bats before his major-league debut at age 23 on June 30. He has 23 RBIs since the All-Star break, leading the Phillies and tied for eighth in the majors.
Neither chose basketball. They were forwards on playoff teams at Ball, each bringing football size and leaping ability.
"Just amazing athleticism," said their coach at Ball, Jerald Temple, who once played basketball at Ball with Williams' father. "Anything that came off the rim and Mike didn't get, Nick got. Mike could have played anywhere in the country, was heavily recruited. Oh, my goodness. He had a nasty disposition and was so skillful."
Evans had more college scholarship offers in basketball.
"I figured he was going to the NBA," Williams said. "He was always so physical, though. A lot of athletes from my high school, we push each other. We're so competitive. There's a hunger. We call it a Galveston thing. We're hungry, we're fighters. We're always out for more."
Williams hopes to attend a Bucs game this fall and see Evans play in person for the first time his Texas A&M days. Evans might be able to return the favor next year. The Phillies are scheduled to play a series against the Rays at Tropicana Field.
"I liked the Phillies, even before he got there," said Evans, who grew up liking Ryan Howard and Chase Utley during their Philadelphia heyday.
Their high school team could still produce an NBA player. Their friend and teammate Terran Petteway has played overseas and in the NBA Developmental League.
Galveston has produced its share of sports stars. Boxer Jack Johnson was from there. For the current generation of athletes there, Evans and Williams remain an inspiration.
"It is amazing to see two guys who were just in the hallway going to lunch, and they're major stars in their respective sports," Temple said. "There's a genuine love they have for each other, and you couldn't be any more proud of them, if they were my own sons."
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.