Briar Evans is part of a vanishing breed.
As a four-sport athlete — with all-conference or state awards in each one — Evans was rewarded May 3 as a co-recipient of the Creston High School Outstanding Male Athlete Award.
At baseball practice, Evans said he and junior Brandon Phipps, also a four-sport athlete, often talk about the demands, and joys, of their hectic athletic schedules.
“Me and Brandon talk about that,” Evans said. “I like them all. I never had a thought of quitting one and I don’t think Brandon has either. We also felt like it was kind of a waste of time if we quit doing what we had done all those years, in AAU and all that stuff.”
It’s an ambitious schedule, especially in the summer, when many students are on “vacation.”
“Well, on a typical day you wake up at 6 in the morning and go to weights,” Evans explained. “The baseball team usually goes early. But I’m also lifting for football. Then to baseball practice. A lot of times basketball open gym is right after baseball, or some 7 on 7 football. Then maybe you get a little break before hitting for the baseball game. Maybe Sunday is not as full.”
It’s a work ethic that has gained the respect of coaches at CHS.
“Very few kids play four sports anymore,” football coach Brian Morrison said. “A big reason for that is the time commitment in the summer. Briar is an example of someone who not just plays all the sports, but excelling. He’ll play football at Morningside and I think they got a steal with him.”
He will join former teammate Alan Smith at Morningside, which played for an NAIA national championship last season. That was part of the draw for a versatile 6-4, 200-pound athlete also heavily recruited in track and field.
“In football, I was encouraged by the past two seasons we had,” Evans said. “It showed how fun it would be if I could get into another good program like we had here. I enjoy football a lot.”
With Creston/O-M primarily a running team, Evans wasn’t showcased much at tight end, compiling 23 catches for 452 yards in the past two seasons, with seven touchdowns. But, he had big-play capability with average yards of 16.9 and 23.2 per catch during those seasons.
“He’ll be a versatile tight end for them,” Morrison said. “He’s capable of moving out to the slot position. He moved to wideout when Luke (Neitzel) was hurt and caught a nice touchdown pass for us. He was a great blocker. Briar and Neitzel, they’re those fast-twitch muscle kind of kids, very explosive. You even see that in the weight room.”
Evans also joined Neitzel in the defensive secondary at safety, allowing Neitzel to move inside against certain formations. Morrison, also the defensive coordinator, was comfortable with the athletic Evans at the back of the defense in those situations.
Morrison said he will also remember those “lighter” moments, when Evans was usually involved.
“The kids really started rallying around Briar,” Morrison said. “He gets them going. Before the game he has these little sayings, like ‘come get your pizza!’ I’m sure the other team wondered what was going on, but they used it every time. He has fun playing sports. He was kind of a spark plug for us.”
Offensive coordinator Darrell Frain said Evans would present matchup problems for Morningside opponents with his rare combination of size, speed and jumping ability. All of those skills are demonstrated in track and field.
This weekend, Evans will compete for the Panthers at the Coed State Track Meet in the 4x400 relay, 400-meter low hurdles and 4x800 relay. He has also high jumped 6-2 and long jumped more than 18 feet, and placed in the Hawkeye 10 Conference 110-meter high hurdles earlier in his career.
Track coach Pat Schlapia was asked about Evans’ best event. He paused.
“I don’t know,” he finally said. “Seriously. He’s done it all for us. If he concentrated on track, he could be great in the decathlon. He’s a jack of all trades — the jumps, hurdles, anything from the 100 to the 800. On our 4x800 that set the school record, he ran a 2:03 split and this is his first year at 800s. Heck, 2:02 was our school record for quite a few years!”
Assistant coach Mark Evans, Briar’s father, said Briar’s strength allowed him to still reach his career-best 6-2 in the high jump this year, after becoming much larger than most high jumpers.
“When he was getting over 6-0 for a couple years he was still 6-2 and 160 pounds,” Mark Evans said. “Then he grew two inches and put on 30 pounds. He’s a lot like Collin Bevins or Kean Richards back in the day. That strength makes up for a lot of things.”
“He’s a great natural athlete,” baseball coach Steve Birchard said. “If you wanted to make a video showing people how to run properly, look at Briar. He’s become more consistent for us at shortstop, and he has a great swing. He hit right around .400 for us in a shortened season for us last year, and we expect big things this year.”
Evans was a lean, 6-3 sophomore post player in Jim Calkins’ final year in Creston. Then he lost some momentum in the sport under new coach Billy Hiatt last year, sitting out for an extended time with mononucleosis.
Hiatt saw rapid improvement from a healthy, stronger Evans this year. He ended up making second team all-conference with 9.3 points and five rebounds per game. His game also gained versatility, with 3-point shooting designed to open up defenses for drives.
“I use Briar as an example of what can change over time if you keep working hard,” Hiatt said. “He was a JV post player a year ago. Now he’s all-conference. When I got here I saw he had good shooting form, and I asked him if he ever shot threes. He worked on it. He’s also one of the few guys comfortable with his back to the basket. He developed some moves. With his quickness and strength, he could work well against bigger guys.”
Evans learned how to get scoring opportunities.
“With our guys having played together so long, they were a great passing team,” Hiatt said. “Guys would rotate, and Briar would learn where to be and get some dump-down baskets.”
Evans finished his career with 15 points and eight rebounds in his final game, a district loss to conference rival Atlantic.
“It seemed like Atlantic was more aggressive than us the first two times, but in that last game we were right with them most of the way,” Evans said. “Then we got some key players in foul trouble. But I felt like we gave it our all in that last game.”
Some of his lasting memories of CHS sports will be from football. He admitted to crying after the playoff loss to Spencer his junior year. And he wasn’t the only one. A district title team had high hopes. Then, this year’s quest was derailed by several key injuries down the stretch.
“It was our fault for overlooking Spencer,” Evans said. “But I’ll never forget football here, just because it showed how we can come together. It was really fun. I’ll miss that a lot.”
When Evans heard his name called for Outstanding Male Athlete, it was a relief in one sense. His father, Mark, received the award in 1980, and his sister, Morgan, received it in 2009. If Mount Ayr had the award it could have gone to his mother, Tracey, who earned 16 letters in four sports there.
“I guess it’s kind of a tradition with our family,” Briar said, “so I thought it would be pretty awesome if I could get it and not feel like a misfit in our family. I knew there would be a tie between a couple of people, at least. We have a lot of all-around athletes.”