Jahri Evans didn't start playing football till his freshman year of high school. Entering his senior year at Frankford High School in Philadelphia, he fractured his leg while playing a pickup basketball game with his church group.
He received letters during his junior year from possible college destinations but after his injury and with only three years of football under his belt, he received little attention from potential colleges.
"I stayed focus on my rehab and was out of commission for nine months," said Evans. "I just hung around the team, watched and listened to everything. Not playing my senior year hurt so I knew wherever I got I would have to walk on."
While sidelined, Evans still attended practice, observed and listened from the sidelines during Frankford's games. He focused on his class work and earned an academic scholarship at Bloomsburg University.
He ended up redshirting his freshman year, putting him out of game action for a two-year span. Evans said it was a struggle sitting out for a such a long period but the offensive tackle said he learned a lot from "soaking it all in."
"I learned a lot just from watching film and practice," said Evans. "It helped with my technique and learning the offensive scheme."
Evans put up a strong campaign as a Huskie by finishing as a finalist for the Division II Gene Upshaw Offensive Player of the Year Award in each of final two seasons. He anchored the Bloomsburg offensive line at LT after taking over as the starter as a sophomore. As a junior, he had 88 knockdowns with 10 TD-resulting block.
Entering the 2006 NFL Draft, Evans switched from tackle to guard and was projected as a late round pick. However, the six-foot-four 310-pound lineman was drafted by the Saints in the fourth round at pick 108.
It was Sean Payton's first year as head coach of the Saints and the team had just moved back to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Evans said he didn't care where he was drafted and just felt "blessed with the opportunity."
"When you go to a Division I school, its kind of understood you have a legitimate shot at going pro," said Evans. "It's a revolving door of players going to NFL at that level. Coming from a D-II school, you don't know what to expect. So when I was drafted, I was just happy to have a shot."
Now in his fifth season, Evans has established himself as one of the NFL's premiere lineman. He earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl in helping the Saints to their first Super Bowl victory last season.
He hasn't missed a game since arriving in 2006 and last Sunday at Tampa, he started his 70th consecutive game, which is the most for a Saints offensive lineman to start his career in team history.
The former fourth-round draft pick said the plethora of accolades hasn't weakened his desire to stay at the top of his profession because he says it can "all disappear in a second."
"The main thing with me is, I always think about what it took for me to get here," said Evans. "In this game you are one mistake away from losing it all whether it be injury or what not. The main piece of advice I took when I got here was 'take care of your body and it will take care of you.'"
Offensive tackle Jon Stinchomb, who has been with the Saints since 2003, said Evans has come a long way since his rookie year.
"He has improved his technique quite a bit since he arrived," said Stinchcomb. "What was remarkable was his recover ability. Whenever he put himself in a bad position he was able to recover very quickly by pure athleticism. Flash forward five years to now, his technique is much better and he still has that 'freakish' strength. He really is a special player."
Evans said last year's Pro Bowl-Super Bowl season brought his career full circle and the All-Pro guard has already taken steps to make it easier for future Bloomburg prospects to reach his level.
The Bloomsburg University graduate has established a full scholarship for out-of-state minority students enrolled in BU's Master of Science in clinical athletic training program. Additionally, he started a high school scholarship for the football program.
"I wanted to help future kids because I know how hard it can be," said Evans. "It also keeps me connected there. With the relationships I have built over the last few years with the teachers, coaches and students it keeps that strong bond.
Evans also runs a foundation for educational and charitable purposes that provides scholarships to college-bound students and supports an annual football camp.
At 27, Evans is in the prime of his career. He has helped lead the Saints to finish as the NFL's top offense three of the last four years. Heading into this season, the Saints had allowed the second fewest sacks (72) since 2006, the year Evans became a part of the black and gold. As impressive as his first four years have been, the Pro Bowler says he still hasn't reached his potential.
"Everybody can improve and I still see a lot of things I can work on," said Evans. "You never want to think you have 'maxed out.' Whether it's footwork or working on getting my hands quicker on guys. I continue to learn and listen – that is what got me to this point and it's what I will continue to do so."