While eating dinner with family and friends at Olive Garden last November, Eastern High quarterback Tanner Evans sensed something was wrong.
He had downed several Sprites in a span of ninety minutes, but his thirst was unquenched.
The next morning Evans was too weak to attend school and instead visited his pediatrician. He tested positive for both strep throat and mononucleosis, but even more alarming was a blood sugar level too high to be measured on a standard meter.
After being rushed to Kosair Children’s Hospital, Evans – who had recently completed an outstanding junior year in which he threw for 1,439 yards and scored 12 TDs – was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
“It was devastating,” said Evans. “I didn’t know if I would ever play football again.”
Type 1 diabetes, a disease in which a body’s immune system destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, afflicts more than 3 million Americans.
The disease takes an especially hard toll on athletes, who must monitor their carbohydrate intake and blood sugar levels before, during and after vigorous exercise, correcting with insulin injections when necessary.
After meeting regularly with an endocrinologist and learning to monitor his blood sugar level, Evans was cleared to play his senior season.
Now he is out to prove that not even a life-altering disease can keep him from excelling at the game he loves.
The Eagles are undefeated through two games, cruising past Jeffersonville 26-3 to open the season then topping Bryan Station 30-21 last Saturday as part of the Fayette County iHigh Football Frenzy.
Evans threw for two TDs and ran for another score against Bryan Station. He has a total of 476 yards passing through the first two games and admits that not all of the implications of his diagnosis were negative.
“I gained 25 pounds in only two weeks after I started treatment,” he said. “The last three years I had been lifting and nothing seemed to work…now I understand.”
“When I was working out this past summer, I felt like a freak athlete compared to where I was before,” Evans said. “I don’t go down on first contact anymore and I don’t get bounced around.”
Standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 180 pounds, the three-year-starter has become an irreplaceable part of the Eagles’ full-spread, no-huddle offense that requires a keen ability to read defenses and adjust on the fly.
“He’s stronger, quicker and is making better decisions,” said coach Ken Whalen. “He’s asked to make a lot of reads and progressions. If we had to put someone else in, we wouldn’t be able to run our playbook.”
“He knows everyone’s position on offense, so even though we’ve got younger guys he can get them in position and get us going at the same time,” said Whalen.
According to Evans, the inexperienced offensive line is starting to gel. “We’re getting on the same page now and they protect me like I’m their brother,” he said.
With Evans leading the offense, Whalen has been able to designate more experienced players to the defensive side of the ball. Senior linebackers Beau Biller (6-2, 240) and Caleb McMahon (6-0, 265) are three-year starters and junior defensive back Shane Fields returns after grabbing five interceptions last season.
“We decided we were going to put our experienced guys on defense and hope that our young playmakers can step up on offense. It’s worked out so far,” said Whalen.
Evans’ attention is now focused on a 7:30 p.m. tilt at Butler on Friday, but whatever the rest of the season holds, his journey has already garnered him much support from family and friends.
“I get 10 to 15 text messages on game days and it means a lot that people are there for me,” said Evans.
Holly Evans, Tanner’s mom, said everyone is pitching in at home. “We’ve made some lifestyle changes and now even his younger brothers (Jake, 10, and Brady, 13) know how many carbs are in foods and how many units of insulin he needs to take,” she said.
“It’s made him a better person physically and emotionally,” Holly said. “A lot of people just give up, but Tanner has a great attitude and is committed to managing it.”
Contact columnist Chris Cahill at email@example.com.
Category: High School Sports Report