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Top 50 football players in Arizona Wildcats history: No. 9 Byron Evans

Photo illustration by azcentral sports.

Photo illustration by azcentral sports.

Position, years at UA: Linebacker, 1983-86

Honors, accomplishments at UA: Second-team All-American, as selected by the Associated Press and Football News, in 1986. … Was the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 1986. … Earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors as a junior and senior. … Ranks second in school history, to Ricky Hunley, in career tackles with 552.

Why he made our list: Byron Evans, from Phoenix South Mountain High School, redshirted in 1982, played sparingly in 1983, won a starting job in the second game of the 1984 season and became a tackling machine.

“We didn’t know he would be that good,” coach Larry Smith said in 1986.

Evans set the school record with 118 unassisted tackled in 1985 and came back with 111 more the next season. Counting bowl games (which the UA record book does not), Evans has two of the top three tackle seasons in Pac-12 history — 211 in 1985 and 210 in 1986.

His most famous play occurred in the 1985 game against Arizona State. With the Wildcats trailing 13-3 late in the third quarter, Evans stripped the ball from punt returner Anthony Parker, with UA’s Don Be’Ans recovering for a touchdown. Two Max Zendejas fourth-quarter field goals — from 57 and 32 yards — won the game 16-13 as UA prevented the Sun Devils from going to the Rose Bowl (see the video of “the strip” below).

“Ruben Rodriguez was probably one of the best punters in the conference. He got a lot of hang time (on the punt), and I wasn’t very fast, so it had to have a lot of hang time with Anthony Parker being one of the best return guys,” Evans told Shane Dale in “Territorial,” the recently released book on the UA-ASU rivalry.

“And I just said, ‘This is the time that I’m going to make a play,’ and I just spoke it into fruition. I put my head in front of the ball, made a play and got the ball out.”

Evans had 18 career tackles for a loss and intercepted seven passes. He also recovered seven fumbles, two in the end zone.

Life after college: Evans had a productive nine-year career with Philadelphia, which picked him in the fourth round, No. 93 overall, in the 1987 draft. In 1989, Evans had 184 tackles and intercepted three passes for the Eagles, prompting Eagles coach Buddy Ryan to call him “the hardest-hitting middle linebacker” in the NFL.

He was a second-team All-Pro selection in 1990 and 1992, as selected by the Newspaper Enterprise Association, serving as the defensive signal-caller for the Eagles’ legendary “Gang Green” defenses.

Evans made 806 career tackles and would have had many more, but his last play came in November 1994 when he severely broke his leg and tore knee ligaments while making a tackle vs. Cleveland. He rehabbed through all of 1995 and into the summer of 1996 before having to retire at 32.

Evans lives in Phoenix, where he has served as an assistant pastor at Shiloh Apostolic Church and is a teacher and coach at ASU Preparatory Academy.

In partnership with the Arizona Republic, we are counting down the top 50 football players in Arizona Wildcats history. Leave your top 10 at AG’s Wildcat Report on Facebook, and check out azcentral.com for the countdown of ASU’s Top 50 football players.

Arizona’s top 50

No. 50 — LaMonte Hunley

No. 49 — Hubie Oliver

No. 48 — Rob Gronkowski

No. 47 — Jim Donarski

No. 46 — Ontiwaun Carter

No. 45 — Steve McLaughlin

No. 44 — John Fina

No. 43 — Glenn Parker

No. 42 — Bobby Lee Thompson

No. 41 — Marcus Bell

No. 40 — Fred W. Enke

No. 39 — Ka’Deem Carey

No. 38 — Juron Criner

No. 37 — Dana Wells

No. 36 — Tom Tunnicliffe

No. 35 — Bruce Hill

No. 34 — Chuck Osborne

No. 33 — Brandon Sanders

No. 32 — Sean Harris

No. 31 — Mike Thomas

No. 30 — Bobby Wade

No. 29 — T Bell

No. 28 — Joe Salave’a

No. 27 — Eddie Wilson

No. 26 — Chuck Levy

No. 25 — Allan Durden

No. 24 — Nick Foles

No. 23 — Tony Bouie

No. 22 — ‘King Kong’ Nolan

No. 21 — Bill Lueck

No. 20 — Walter “Hoss” Nielsen

No. 19 — Trung Canidate

No. 18 — Mark Arneson

No. 17 — Chris Singleton

No. 16 — Mike Dawson

No. 15 — Max Zendejas

No. 14 — Dennis Northcutt

No. 13 — Jackie Wallace

No. 12 — Antoine Cason

No. 11 — Vance Johnson

No. 10 — Lance Briggs

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Here is Evans’ forced fumble vs. ASU in 1985:

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And check out Byron Evans’ end zone dance with the Philadelphia Eagles:

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