TAMPA ― Mike Evans is not just a receiver, but a giver. He gives his time, not just his treasures.
When his hometown of Galveston, Texas, held a parade in his honor last March after the Bucs won Super Bowl 55, Evans was handed the key to the city.
Before riding on a firetruck with his wife, Ashli, he signed autographs for more than an hour and passed out more than a few party favors.
“Even though it was a parade for me, I just felt the need, I thought it was a perfect time to give back in that moment,” Evans said. “And I had this vision of myself doing this, like giving out money and prizes and things like that ... so that was a great moment for me and my family.”
But what really moved Evans was the testimonials of his teammates about Evans’ generosity in a team-produced video to commemorate his selection as the Bucs’ nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award for the third year in a row.
Evans committed over $100,000 in relief efforts when the pandemic hit and helped raise $2.7 million for the World Health Organization. He’s done things that haven’t been noticed, like buying lunch for an entire restaurant in addition to his annual bowling and golf tournaments and charitable gala. He’s endowed a scholarship at USF and helped families from Tampa to College Station.
“He’s just the best teammate, you know?” quarterback Tom Brady said. “Mike’s like, he thinks about everyone else. He’s got the best personality. He’s so competitive, and his teammates love him because he loves them.”
Tackle Donovan Smith noted that not only does Evans donate millions of dollars to the foundation that bears Evans’ name, he’s personally invested in the kids and families he helps.
“He’s someone who’s going to spend a lot more time than a lot of guys would with fans in terms of signing autographs, staying behind,” Smith said. “To dedicate that for his fans, it just shows he’s grateful for the people who come out and support him, and it speaks volumes to what it means to his heart.”
When wide receiver Scotty Miller walked into the Bucs’ facility during an off day two years ago, he ran into Evans entertaining several dozen kids.
“Not many guys were in the building,” Miller recalled. “Coming into the cafe and just seeing the 30 or 40 kids here and Mike is putting on an event for these kids. Gifts everywhere for all the kids. No cameras there. Nobody even knew about it except Mike and a couple people in the building.
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“So that just really shows you what type of guy Mike is. You never really know what he’s doing behind closed doors, but he’s always doing something for somebody else.”
Receiver Chris Godwin says he’s inspired by Evans.
“The things that he does with his money, with his time, with his resources, I think a lot of times it can go under the radar because he doesn’t really care to show it off,” Godwin said. “He’s not doing these things for publicity. He genuinely does these things to be able to help people out and improve their lives.”
When Evans and his wife viewed the team tribute, they became emotional.
“That one kind of got me,” Evans said. “I try to, like, be in the moment, but that got me. To have my wife tearing up and things like that, I love those guys. I love my family and everybody that spoke out. I really appreciate it.”
Evan’s wife helps run the foundation in addition to being a wife and mother.
“Ashli is my rock,” Evans said. “Without her, I don’t know if I would be as successful as I’ve been and be in the position I’m in. I mean, she does it all for our family. Holds it together. Always wants to give back. Even when I’m not thinking about it, she brings up something. So it’s good to have that companion and that partner.”
Evans’ unselfishness on the field has been on display the past two seasons. The Bucs’ first round pick in 2014 established himself as one of the league’s premier receivers long before Brady arrived.
He had already produced six consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons, tying Randy Moss for most to start a career in NFL history.
Even so, Evans didn’t waver when the Bucs wanted to trade for tight end Rob Gronkowski or sign receiver Antonio Brown or running back Leonard Fournette, all primary targets that inevitably would cut into Evans’ production.
It was a sacrifice Evans was willing to make for a chance to experience playoff football. He still managed to produce another 1,000-yard receiving season, setting the league record with seven straight. No. 8 should come later this season.
Earlier this season, Evans became one of only five players to have recorded more than 70 touchdowns and 8,500 receiving yards in 115 career games, joining Marvin Harrison, Calvin Johnson, Randy Moss and Jerry Rice.
“It’s been a real privilege for me to play with him,” Brady said. “He’s one of the all-time greats.”
On and off the field.
“I’ve always wanted to do this,” Evans said. “It’s been a big dream of mine, and I’m blessed to live out my dream and that’s to be a role model and be somebody that can help and be a beacon of hope for my cities. It’s just a blessing, and I don’t take it for granted at all.”
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