College reunion: Childhood friends Duane Brown, Justice Evans finally teammates at IUP
Friends since meeting on an AAU basketball team in sixth or seventh grade, Duane Brown and Justice Evans hoped to play football together one day.
But although they played in the same midget football league in their younger days and in the Alle-Kiski Valley during part of high school, the dream didn't work out until college.
But now the former Team Top Level AAU basketball players are hoping to help bring IUP football to the top level. Brown, an Apollo-Ridge graduate, and Evans, a Vandergrift native and Central Catholic graduate, are contributing as true freshmen to the early success of the No. 3 Crimson Hawks (6-0, 5-0 Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference).
“We did in basketball and stuff, and football being our sport, we always talked about it,” Brown said. “But we went to different high schools. Finally getting to play together is cool.”
Evans ranks second on IUP with 369 rushing yards in six games, averaging 6.3 yards per carry. Despite missing two games with a foot injury, Brown has rushed for 180 yards and two touchdowns. Both have 100-yard performances, Brown against East Stroudsburg and Evans against Cheyney and Seton Hill.
“Being here with him, it helps both of us being able to push each other and be great every day,” Evans said.
Brown and Evans had prolific high school careers. Brown accounted for more than 6,600 all-purpose yards and 88 touchdowns at Apollo-Ridge. Evans started at running back as a freshman and sophomore at Kiski Area. After sitting out his junior season following a transfer to Central Catholic, he became the leading receiver for the WPIAL champion Vikings as a senior.
They visited IUP the same weekend and ultimately committed there. Now the two are rooming together and enjoying their time, although they can't agree on which of them is the messier one.
“He's a little messy, but it's nothing too crazy,” Evans said.
“I'm constantly cleaning up after him,” Brown disputed.
Brown hoped to contribute at running back as a freshman, and Evans was expected to redshirt at wide receiver. But two of IUP's top returning running backs suffered season-ending injuries during the preseason, opening opportunities for both players.
“I wasn't expecting to be playing running back this year, but I have no problem with it,” Evans said. “It actually felt like my freshman year in high school again because I got to play varsity that year, too, so I was the young guy on the field. It was a little bit of pressure, but nothing I can't handle.”
Now Brown and Evans are part of a four-headed monster at running back, with Samir Bullock and Malik Anderson the other two. With their efforts and those of dual-threat quarterback Lenny Williams, IUP ranks eighth in the country with 265.8 rushing yards a game.
“They've shown great maturity for true freshmen,” IUP coach Paul Tortorella said. “Nothing we do or any game that we play seems to be too big for them. They both don't act like true freshmen in regards to their preparation, just how they go about their business. It seems like they've been here a couple years.”
Tortorella praised the abilities of Brown and Evans not just as “home-run hitters” running the ball, but also their ability to pass block and catch balls out of the backfield.
“You've got to know the game more,” Brown said. “Coming in and playing running back, you've got to learn. You've got to learn everything the offense is doing, not only just the running backs but what the line's doing, what the defense is doing. It goes into more mental work.
“It's an all-day thing. When I'm not in school, I'm doing football.”
After bowing out in the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs last season, IUP has designs on winning PSAC and NCAA titles and has a top-10 matchup Saturday at Slippery Rock (6-0, 5-0).
“We've just got to stay focused and keep doing our job, keep doing what we need to do to get there,” Brown said.