TAMPA — Mike Evans was 9 years old and asleep upstairs with his sister at their home in Galveston, Texas, the night his father, Mickey, was stabbed repeatedly and shot to death.
In one moment, he lost the man who had been his childhood hero, unaware of an abusive relationship that ultimately led to the murderer's rage.
A dozen years later, when he was selected seventh overall by the Buccaneers in the NFL draft in 2014, Evans remembered the emotional journey and wept.
"It was tough, and a lot of people have tough stories around the world," Evans said Tuesday. "It's just that you can't give up. There's no excuse to give up the hand you're dealt. You've just got to keep fighting and make something positive out of it."
The fact that it was Evans' uncle, Sam Kilgore, who murdered his father makes the story even more compelling. Though still young, Mike would visit Kilgore in prison and even overcame his anger to forgive the man who committed the brutal crime.
Along the way, he learned the dark family secret that was the motive.
All of it was profiled in an E:60 feature that aired Tuesday on ESPN, in which Evans and his family shared an in-depth account of that horrific night in 2002.
The story featured a prison interview with Kilgore, the brother of Mike's mother, Heather Kilgore. It covered the pattern of domestic abuse that enraged Sam, who is serving a life sentence after killing his cellmate in 2006.
Sam Kilgore had been serving a 10-year sentence for burglary when he learned that his sister had become pregnant with Mike at age 14.
Kilgore went to live with the couple for a while after his release, and nobody had witnessed the abuse until the night Mickey punched a beer can into Heather's mouth, splitting her lip. He was jailed for 30 days.
"One night, Sam was out socially with Mike's mom and something triggered something in him," said John Minton III, who produced the 25-minute E:60 segment with Dan Lindberg for ESPN. "Sam had gone back home to the residence where Mike's dad was babysitting Mike and his sister. He tried to entice Mike's father into a fight, and Mickey was brushing it off and not engaging with him. That put Sam in even a further fit of rage.
"He went to the bedroom and got a gun and fired it at him. Mickey jumped through a window. Sam took out a pocket knife and went after him. Then he shot him one time in his forehead, and Mike father's died in the street while he was sleeping upstairs at that time."
Evans doesn't remember anything that happened until "police woke me and my sister up and said, 'You need to come with me,' " he said.
Heather Kilgore would visit her brother in prison on the weekends. With nobody to watch the children, she took them with her.
"Mike visited (Sam) a lot and talked to him a lot," Lindberg said. "Throughout time, Mike learned to forgive him."
Said Evans on Tuesday: "It was difficult and me being so young. I was naive at the time. It was tough. But you've got to look at it from his point of view. … It's a horrific story. And I saw the small clip they showed on Outside the Lines and there were some things I hadn't seen yet, so it was a little upsetting. But it's old and it happened. You've just got to keep moving forward and do what I'm doing."
What Evans has done is overcome his personal adversity to emerge as one of the best young receivers in the NFL. The 22-year-old has 2,257 receiving yards in his first two pro seasons, which ranks 12th in the league during that stretch, and has 15 touchdowns.
"I don't want anybody feeling sorry for me," Evans said. "They came to me, and I don't mind talking about it. It's a part of me, and it made me who I am today. It's a good story, and I hope some people can get a good message from it."