There was a time, in the darker days of Oregon football, that Len Casanova managed to land a highly-prized fullback — Jim Evenson. He was touted as the kind of running back who could help turn a program around.
Evenson was born in 1947 in Hillsboro, Oregon. Eventually his family moved to Vancouver, Washington, where Evenson would graduate from Fort Vancouver High. Unable to qualify for a four-year college, Evenson enrolled at Boise Junior College (now Boise State University).
BJC had been a conduit for a number of Oregon stars including Darrell Aschbacher, Joe Schaffeld, John Wilcox, Dave Wilcox, Milt Kanehe and Jerry Inman. Evenson, however, was one of the first running backs recruited by Oregon from BJC.
In 1965, Evenson, as a freshman, was named a first team Junior College All-America. That was enough to pique the Ducks’ interest – and – Casanova managed to land the highly-touted fullback.
Evenson arrived in Eugene in time for spring practice in 1966. He quickly made an impression on the coaching staff with his play. By the time fall practices opened, Evenson had moved to the top of the depth chart at the halfback position.
However, he had competition for the starting job from fellow sophomores Claxton Welch and Steve Jones. Apparently, the competition got to Evenson.
Shortly before the season opener against Oklahoma, Casanova named Welch as the starting left halfback. Evenson was upset with Casanova’s decision. He quit the team just days before the season opener.
Casanova explained Evenson’s departure as he ”didn’t live up to our standards and left by mutual consent.”
Norm Chapman, Oregon’s defensive line coach, was a little more direct, telling the media that while Evenson was a ‘nice boy’ — he needed maturity, could not take constructive criticism and was a distraction to the team.
Evenson briefly flirted with transferring to Oregon State, even showing up at a Beaver practice. However, when he realized that under PAC-8 rules that he would have to sit out two seasons, Evenson transferred to Treasure Valley Community College. Again, his play was such that he was named a JC All-American.
Evenson was not done with Oregon, yet. He returned to Eugene in 1967 and re-joined the team, becoming the starting fullback, backed by sophomore Andy Maurer.
Unfortunately, Evenson’s statistics were not what one would have expected from such a talented player. He managed to gain 407 yards on 123 carries for one touchdown — second to Welch in rushing.
This would turn out to be Evenson’s only season as a Duck. Apparently, Jim was not very good with his studies and left school before the 1968 season.
What to do next?
Evenson decided to give professional football a try. He couldn’t go to the NFL, as his original class had not completed its eligibility. So, he managed to talk the British Columbia Lions into giving him a tryout. The rest, as they say, is history.
In his rookie season Evenson rushed for 1220 yards and caught 19 passes, and was named to the Western Conference All-Star team. 1968 would be the first of four consecutive seasons in which Evenson would gain more than 1,000 yards, and be named to the Western Conference All-Star team. Evenson would also be named to the CFL All-Star team in 1970 and 1971.
Evenson’s performance in his first two seasons was enough to draw the attention of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who drafted him in the fourth round of the 1970 NFL Draft. While in Vancouver, Evenson’s teammates would include former Ducks Dave Tobey, Lachlan Heron, and Lefty Hendrickson.
Evenson’s stay in Vancouver was not without its drama. In 1970, he was briefly suspended by the Lions following abdominal surgery. His doctor and the Lions’ team doctor could not agree on whether Evenson was ready to return to the team following the surgery.
Evenson’s rushing numbers (961 yards) declined in 1972, while he had his best year as a receiver with 29 receptions. That, apparently, contributed to an Evenson trade.
The Ottawa Rough Riders were Evenson’s next stop. He gained 909 yards in 1973, and was named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team. 1974 would not be so kind to Evenson. He started out the season well but went down with a season-ending injury in September. That injury would also spell the end of his career in Canada.
Evenson, however, was not done with football. In 1975, he signed with the Portland Thunder of the World Football League, where his teammates included former Ducks Inman, Mike McConnell, and Mike Popovich.
Evenson would start out the season strongly, including a 161-yard game against the Chicago Wind, but would tail off, finishing with 439 yards. This would be Evenson’s last season.
Who knows what Evenson might have done if he had played for Oregon all three seasons (1966-1968). He clearly was a major talent that only blossomed after he left the Ducks for Canada.
Before his time, Jim Evenson passed away in January, 2008 at the age of 61.
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