NORMAN — Even with an early wake-up call looming, Tyler Evans didn’t get much sleep.
Evans was excited and nervous and anxious and ready to go for his first preseason football practice in nearly two years.
With 29 starts under his belt, Evans is Oklahoma’s most experienced offensive lineman. The night of July 30, he felt like a rookie.
“It was like Christmas,” Evans said. “I was talking to my wife. It was probably at least one o’clock. I was like, ‘I’m so excited to get back out there. I wonder what the first day is going to hold for me.’”
His two previous seasons ended before they began, cut short due by torn anterior cruciate ligaments.
The recruiting class of 2009 he came to Norman with — guys like Ronnell Lewis and Jamarkus MacFarland, Javon Harris and Demontre Hurst, Gabes Ikard and Lynn — are gone. Most are long gone.
His first senior season ended with a right ACL tear during preseason camp. His second didn’t make it that far. Evans re-tore the knee ligament in 2013 spring practice.
For two months, Evans thought his football career might be over. Even when he decided to give it another try, he wasn’t sure.
“When I started winter workouts, I was just doing mobility stuff,” Evans said. “I was like, ‘This actually feels kind of good. Maybe I have a chance to come back.’ Then I went through summer workouts and I was like, ‘I’m gonna get back out there and ride that horse again.’ ”
No one can understand Evans’ comeback experience better than his new bride.
The former Natasha Kelley endured four major injuries — including a torn ACL — in five years as an OU gymnast. For two seasons, she competed with the injury.
A torn Achilles tendon prior to her senior season in 2012 ended her career.
The couple married in June.
“All you can really do is get out there and just roll with it,” Natasha told Tyler the night before practice began. “Leave it out there on the field this year.”
With Bronson Irwin’s departure, Evans has a chance to regain his starting spot. In 2011, he started all 13 games at right guard. The year before, he started the last 10 at the spot.
“He was a hell of a player,” Sooners offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh said. “It’s so hard to say what’s going to happen.
“He’s obviously going to be rusty but I think he’ll pick up and do a good job for us.”
As they are with several offensive linemen coming off injuries, coaches are easing Evans back into practices. So far, so good though.
He says he feels 100 percent.
And on the first play of practice, a teammate said the 6-foot-5, 339-pound Evans drove a defender back 20 yards.
“I was all amped up. I took somebody and just drove them,” said Evans, who claims the 20-yard figure was slightly exaggerated.
“The next day, I pancaked a guy. That had been building up.”