Willie Evans

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It’s ironic that perhaps the greatest running back in University at Buffalo football history wasn’t a heralded player on the high school level at Emerson Vocational.

Willie Evans was an outstanding track and field competitor in the Buffalo Public High Schools, played basketball and some football . . . after a stint as the gridiron manager. A scholarship was in the offing from Purdue if he would establish a long jump record in the spring. He also sprinted.

But Willie, who was All-High in track and field events, injured his leg running the hallways of Emerson while preparing for the track and field season and the problem persisted, affecting his performance in the spring. Neither the record nor the scholarship came.

Willie got married after earning his diploma and spent a year working as a tailor. But during that time, he also discovered tailoring wasn’t the craft he wanted to do the rest of his life. UB, based on the athleticism and ability – as well as potential – he showed in track and field events, had offered him a football scholarship his senior year. He declined, but found out the offer was still on the table and he enrolled a year later.

Willie played a total of three minutes and forty-one seconds as a freshman, then exhibited what was to come by carrying the ball 83 times for 409 yards, a 4.9-yard average, as a sophomore, and he also played safety.

As a junior and senior, he was something special . . . as were the Bulls. Willie rushed for 530 yards in 70 attempts (a 7.6-yard average) and played both ways as UB produced an 8-1 record in 1958, won the Lambert Cup as the top small college team in the Northeast and was invited to play in the Tangerine Bowl . . . an invitation that was declined because African-Americans were not allowed on the same field as whites by the group that managed the stadium in which the game was to be played.

Following that All-East and Little All-America campaign, Willie, who continued to play both ways, ran for a Bulls-record 620 yards on 92 carries as a senior, and his 7.3-yard average helped the Bulls to another 8-1 campaign.

Named WNY’s outstanding athlete by the Western New York Sportswriters as a senior, he finished his career with 1,559 rushing yards and still a school-record 6.4-yards per carry. Willie was also designated most valuable back during his junior and senior years.

An outstanding long jumper and sprinter at UB, Willie has been heavily involved with his alma mater, serving a term as president of the UB Alumni Association, as well as being a member of several committees, including those responsible for selecting UB’s president and director of athletics.