Jacksonville, Fla., is a special place for Georgia safety Bryan Evans.
The city serves as the annual location for the Georgia-Florida game and is where Evans grew up, only 10 minutes from Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, where Evans and the Bulldogs will play Saturday.
No one has heard more about Florida’s No. 1 ranking, or the Gators’ success against the Bulldogs, than Evans.
“There are a lot of areas down there, with a lot of Florida fans,” Evans said. “I can’t stand going home sometimes.”
This year’s game is different. Evans, a senior, will make his final homecoming trip to play in front of friends and family. Saturday is the final chance he’ll get to beat the Gators, who have won three of the four contests Evans has witnessed and played in since coming to Georgia in 2005.
“It’ll mean a lot to me, just this being my senior year and going home, to my hometown,” he said. “That will be a great thing and I know I have to go out there and fight for it.”
Evans has come full circle in regard to the Georgia-Florida game. As a kid, he grew up tailgating outside the Gator Bowl, seeing both sides of the rivalry first-hand. He played high school football at nearby Edward H. White, well enough to be offered by Florida, Miami and Florida State. Instead, he felt more comfortable with coach Mark Richt and Georgia, leaving the state and witnessing an SEC championship team in 2005 as a redshirt.
“People root for me because I play for Georgia, but, other than that, anything else that happens with Georgia, they don’t care about it as long as Florida gets the win,” Evans said. “I don’t get too much grief when I’m in town, but they tease me every once in a while about it.”
The Gators have six players from the Jacksonville roster, including quarterback Tim Tebow. Evans, who has started seven games and tallied 27 tackles this season, stays in touch with a few Gators from his high school days, although not Tebow.
“I talk to them every once in a while,” Evans said. “We always text each other before the game, and when we get in town we’ll hang out.”
Evans loves going back home to play, but he agrees with the critics who argue Florida has an advantage because of the game’s site.
“I mean, it’s only 45 minutes away from Gainesville,” he said. “That kind of gives the upper hand to Florida. I like going back to Jacksonville, but I wouldn’t say it’s neutral.”
But Georgia travels well, Evans says, a factor he noticed at an early age hanging around the event.
“When you go to the game, you can see almost as many Georgia fans,” he said.
Regardless of which team has the advantage, Evans relishes the chance to return to his hometown. And this year, his final season, with a win, would be special.