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Jahri Evans, Roman Harper took different paths to same destination - Saints Hall of Fame

Spanish broadcaster Marco Garcia honored as Joe Gemelli award winner

The New Orleans Saints celebrate former guard Jahri Evans as he is inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame class of 2020.
The New Orleans Saints celebrate former guard Jahri Evans as he is inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame class of 2020.

Even as a fourth-round draft pick in 2006, small-college Jahri Evans didn't seem to have much doubt.

Even as a second-round pick the same year, big-college Roman Harper didn't seem to be quite as sure.

But different approaches helped carry them to the same destination – a spot in the Saints Hall of Fame, as members of the 2020 class.

Also on Tuesday, the Saints' Spanish radio broadcaster, Marco Garcia, was named recipient of the Joe Gemelli "Fleur de Lis" award, for his contributions to the organization.

Evans, one of the most decorated offensive linemen in franchise history, spent 11 seasons as a New Orleans Saint (2006-16). And Harper, a safety who was a member of the same draft class and spent nine seasons with the Saints (2006-13, and 2016), was a two-time Pro Bowler.

They comprised one-fourth of an eight-man draft class that helped the Saints win Super Bowl XLIV and build the foundation for the success that has occurred since 2006.

"These two gentlemen are part of a draft class that completely changed the culture, and began the pillars of the Super Bowl championship run," Coach Sean Payton said.

"The one thing they didn't have in common is the size of their schools. When the tape was watched on Roman, you had every angle possible. You saw sideline, end zone, you saw end-zone tight, sideline tight. When the tape came on Jahri, it kind of came in on a horse and buggy. And you had one copy of it. And we wanted to hold on to that tape, thinking that no one else in the league might have the same copy."

Evans, who played at Bloomsburg (Pa.) University, had his list of goals set from the beginning. And he soon started checking them off.

"When I got drafted in '06, my goal was first to make the team, and then when an opportunity came about for me to actually play and start, that's where my mind was set to be: To try to be the best player I could be," he said. "Be the best guard in the NFL. And I had some good coaches very early on in my career, taught me a lot of things that stuck with me throughout my career. My goal was always just to win, and be the best player I could be."

Harper, meanwhile, was extending a dream that he didn't believe was possible.

"I just never would have thought I'd be here," he said of being voted into the Saints Hall of Fame. "I've always been one of those guys. Like, I never thought about going to college and playing football until I was a senior in high school and I saw my picture in the newspaper, and they said I was going to have a chance.

"And I never thought about playing in the NFL. I was just really enjoying college football at Alabama. There weren't a lot of people where I'm from (Prattville, Ala.) and looked like me that had ever done that. So how do I know that I have that ability, until somebody tells you that? I think that's what kind of always – I've been who I am. I've always kind of lived in the moment, never really gotten ahead of myself, just kind of lived my life and don't think about too many other things. Good things just always happen to good people, it seems like."

When Evans entered the starting lineup, he never left it. He started all 169 regular-season games he played in New Orleans – including all 16 games his first seven consecutive years – and became a dominant fixture at right guard.

Evans was a five-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowler whose desire to stay on the field in the NFL traced to high school.

"I didn't play organized football until ninth grade," he said. "My 10th grade year, I had an opportunity to start – we'd just lost to Penn Charter (School), and Coach was trying to shake it up, and he pulled a senior and put me in to start.

"I was a little tentative at that time, I didn't take advantage of the situation, so I wound up not starting my sophomore year. Then, my junior year, we were undefeated and we had a real good season, we just lost before the championship. That summer, I broke my leg playing basketball. I had three pins and a screw in my leg, two surgeries – one to put the pins in, one to take the pins out. So I missed my whole senior season. The guys wind up going to the championship, but we wind up losing. But I wound up getting a scholarship to play college ball.

"So then when I got to New Orleans and that same kind of scenario presented itself, with Jermane Mayberry getting hurt (in training camp) and me being put in, I kind of was able to reflect on my time back in high school to where I didn't take advantage of it. I always told myself that I would never let that happen again, and that's kind of the mind-set I took."

Harper started five games as a rookie before tearing his ACL. He came back to play all 16 games the next year and his teammates named him the Saints' Ed Block Courage Award winner.

"My college roommate, he called me after the Saints drafted me and he laughed at me," Harper said. "He said that we'd never go to the playoffs and how bad we were."

"We had a great draft," Harper said, smiling. "We got there, (receiver) Marques Colston was way overweight, so I didn't think that he'd turn out to be the great player that he was. Everybody was so high on (receiver) Mike Haas. We had this very, very tall, enormously big white guy named (offensive tackle) Zach Strief in the seventh round that everybody was excited about as well.

"It was just crazy. Jahri had these big glasses on – these big, like, really big, big glasses. So we were like, 'How can this guy be an O-lineman, be as tough and as great as he is?' So, it was just funny. We did not look the part, but we definitely came together and were very much a vital part of getting that organization turned around. Immediately, we were all thrown in the fire and I think we all responded the right way."

The fact that they're the latest members of the class in the Saints Hall of Fame – joining Colston and running back Reggie Bush, and likely to be joined by Strief when he becomes eligible – says they responded in the right way.

"It means a lot," Evans said. "It means that I came to work every day and did what I needed to do. It means that we put up a lot of points and won a lot of games, and that's a test. And that's what it's about. It shows that I approached the game as a professional and did the right things, and it's awesome. But it also means that when your name or number goes up there, you're always in the conversation."

"I'm so excited for all the great players are in this Saints Hall of Fame," said Harper, who was able to double up on the celebrating. His wife gave birth on Monday to their fourth child, a son named Seoul Chankoowashtay Harper, which translates to "Good Path" and is a tribute to her Native American heritage.

"For me to be able to go in with the greatest player in my draft class in Jahri Evans, who I'm hoping will be a (Pro Football) Hall of Famer Hall of Famer at some point in his life, I couldn't ask for more," Harper said.

"This is not just about me. This award is for my mom, my dad, my brothers – the ones that did all the traveling. I just played the game but for my family, everybody that put so much into my career, this is really the end goal for all of them, to kind of put a cherry on top. Not only that, but now to have all my kids be there, to have this one picture."

The New Orleans Saints celebrate former safety Roman Harper as he is inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame class of 2020.

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