The Camp Randall 100 honors a prestigious group of 100 people who shaped the first century of Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin Athletics will reveal a new honoree every day from May 24 until the Badgers’ 2017 opening game on Sept. 1 against Utah State.
“An unbelievable game. An unbelievable time. It was the first time I’d ever been on a field where it gets rushed (by the fans). That was quite an experience.”
— Lee Evans on beating Ohio State in 2003
BY ANDY BAGGOT | UWBadgers.com Insider
Lee Evans has three distinct memories of Camp Randall Stadium, two layered in glory and the other saturated in pain.
Those moments help define Evans in his march to becoming the all-time leading pass-catcher in Wisconsin football history.
One instance illustrated his ability to affect an outcome with a single play.
One was a referendum on his ability to dominate an entire game.
One was a demonstration of his grit and perseverance, the kind you expect from a record-setting Hall of Famer.
Funny, all three came after Evans had his greatest statistical season for the Badgers, a 12-game tour de force in 2001 that earned him first-team All-America honors.
Evans, from Bedford, Ohio, owns program records for receiving yardage in a game (258), season (1,545) and career (3,468).
He sits No. 1 all-time in receiving touchdowns in a game (five), season (13) and a career (27).
Five of the top 10 receiving days in UW history belong to Evans — including three over 200 yards — and he scored on pass plays covering 99, 79, 78, 75, 70 (twice), 53, 44, 42, 38 and 30 (twice) yards.
Evans’ career was on a remarkable trajectory in 2001. He caught 75 passes for 1,545 yards and nine TDs and was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s top receiver, as a junior.
That single-season yardage total and per-game average of 128.8 set Big Ten Conference records and made him the first UW pass-catcher to lead the league since 1963.
But Evans injured his left knee during the annual spring game in May of 2002 and missed the ensuing season following surgery.
No one knew then that some of his best work at Camp Randall was yet to come.
Many UW fans remember Lee Evans for one exquisite play.
On Oct. 11, 2003, he got behind Ohio State cornerback Chris Gamble late in the fourth quarter and caught a 79-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Matt Schabert. The only reception of the game for Evans set the stage for a 17-10 victory over the third-ranked Buckeyes.
“An unbelievable game. An unbelievable time,” Evans said. “It was the first time I’d ever been on a field where it gets rushed (by the fans). That was quite an experience.”
It was an atmosphere — the defending national champion Buckeyes had won 19 straight — that tested Evans’ mental resolve.
“It had been a grind of a game,” he said. “Both defenses were playing well. It was kind of a rainy game and not much was going on in the air. Not much was going on in terms of making big plays.
“I wasn’t really frustrated. I was just trying to stay patient and wait for my time. If I got an opportunity, I wanted to seize it.”
“Many times you may be open as a receiver and the ball doesn’t come. It’s kind of a letdown. But when you draw it up, and you execute like you’ve done 100 times in practice, and it’s drawn up and huge just like that, it’s a great, great feeling.”
— Lee Evans
Schabert was taking snaps for the Badgers because the starter, Jim Sorgi, was sidelined with a bizarre affliction. He couldn’t speak loud enough for his teammates to hear his cadence because TV replays showed Ohio State linebacker Robert Reynolds choking him at the bottom of a pile.
Reynolds wasn’t penalized on the play, but he was later suspended by his coach, Jim Tressel, and called Sorgi to apologize.
What was going through Evans’ mind when Schabert trotted onto the field?
“When Sorgi went out, being a receiver you’re not thinking, ‘OK, now we’re going to dial up a bomb and try and get a big play,’” Evans said. “I’m thinking they’re going to try and play it safe and dink and dunk, things like that.
“When you bring in the backup, you never know what the (offensive) coordinator’s thinking. I really didn’t know what to expect, honestly. But time was winding down, the game was close and they had all the confidence in Schabert to call that play.”
UW offensive coordinator Brian White called for “56 Jerk.”
Evans lined up on the right side of the formation, ran down field and broke to the sideline. When Gamble made a move to jump the route, Evans churned up field and was wide open.
“Many times you may be open as a receiver and the ball doesn’t come,” Evans said. “It’s kind of a letdown.
“But when you draw it up, and you execute like you’ve done 100 times in practice, and it’s drawn up and huge just like that, it’s a great, great feeling.”
“Running those stadium steps, I hated every moment. The grind of doing that was certainly a challenge. … It was one of those things that you do as a team and everybody’s hurting, grinding, trying to get through it together. As hard as they were, it was a time for us to grow and build the team.”
— Lee Evans
Four weeks later, Evans took a blowtorch to the Michigan State secondary, catching 10 passes for 258 yards and five TDs during a 56-21 triumph.
“Sometimes you’re in a zone,” he said.
Evans had some important company. Sophomore tailback Dwayne Smith carried 21 times for 207 yards and three scores, marking the first time that a Big Ten game produced a 200-yard receiver and 200-yard rusher.
Sorgi, meanwhile, threw for 380 yards, the fourth-highest single-game output in Wisconsin history.
“It was kind of a perfect storm because everything was working,” Evans said.
As a junior in 2001, Evans caught nine passes for 228 yards and three TDs during a 42-28 loss to the Spartans at Camp Randall. He knew what to expect defensively.
“I knew going into the game there’d be some opportunities there,” Evans said. “They played a lot of man-to-man defense. Obviously, they wanted to come down and stop the run.”
In all, Evans was targeted 11 times in the rematch and made the most of a coverage scheme that never adjusted.
“You get one (long pass play) and keep racking up yards and they never changed, never deviated from what they were doing,” he said.
That big day gave way to the 2004 NFL Draft, where Evans was chosen by Buffalo in the first round. He wound up catching 381 passes for 6,008 yards and 43 TDs in 118 games.
Evans would not have finished his career with such a flourish had he not recovered from reconstructive knee surgery sustained in the spring of ’02.
“That whole process was as challenging as I’ve ever had,” he said. “It took the support of a lot of people in the UW program for me to come back.”
Evans specifically mentioned John Dettmann, the former UW strength and conditioning coach who went “above and beyond with his time and expertise.”
Whenever Evans thinks about Camp Randall, his mind invariably drifts to running its concrete stairways during recovery and training.
“Running those stadium steps, I hated every moment,” he said. “The grind of doing that was certainly a challenge.
“It was one of those things that you do as a team and everybody’s hurting, grinding, trying to get through it together.
“As hard as they were, it was a time for us to grow and build the team,” Evans said.