LINCOLN — Nebraska's Ciante Evans knows what it's like to fail on the field. And he's not afraid of the feeling.
The senior cornerback has found a way to swallow the shame when he's at his worst in hopes that he'll get closer to revealing his best.
“You always need something that's going to help you realize that you're not there and you need to get better,” he said. “Not saying I was arrogant or big-headed, but there's always something that's going to wake you up and make you train harder.”
Those motivating moments didn't occur often last year, when Evans transformed from unsure youngster to the versatile, well-versed veteran who enters his final season as arguably NU's most valuable defender.
He was a first-team All-Big Ten honoree, according to ESPN and CBS media panels — though NU defensive coordinator John Papuchis will tell you that Evans is still one of the sport's most underrated players.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder from Arlington, Texas, had 56 total tackles last year, and his 38 solo stops were the third-most among the Huskers. He had the second-most pass breakups (eight) and returned an interception for a touchdown against Idaho State.
But statistics don't give him enough credit, according to the NU coaching staff.
Evans matched up against the opponent's best receiver for much of the year while most often playing a complex nickelback position that combines a linebacker's run-stopping responsibilities with a defensive back's pass-coverage rules. He played some traditional cornerback, too, when offenses lined up in pro-style formations.
“He played at a high level,” coach Bo Pelini said. “I put a lot on him within a game plan at times. There's just a lot of little fine-detail things that he needs to know.”
A year ago at this time, Pelini admitted that he wasn't sure if Evans could handle that role within the Huskers' defense. He'd had a sophomore year full of gut-wrenching mistakes.
He was lost back then, but never too cocky to admit it. He believed in his potential, but knew he had lots of work to do.
And he's at it again.
The only touchdown he gave up last season is the kind of play he's been watching on repeat.
Lining up as a cornerback in the third quarter at the Capital One Bowl, Evans briefly engaged Georgia receiver Chris Conley a few yards off the line of scrimmage and let him release on the inside instead of forcing him to the sideline. Evans' diving attempt to deflect the accurately thrown deep ball wasn't enough, and Conley caught the 49-yard pass to ignite the Bulldogs' 22-0 run to end that game.
He's rewatched that loss to Georgia and the Big Ten title game blowout defeat to Wisconsin more than any other contests. The Wisconsin tape showed Badger back Montee Ball delivering a powerful stiff-arm that dropped Evans to the turf on a third-quarter touchdown run.
Catches like Conley's, he said, are just part of being a cornerback.
“Humility. You're going to get beat for a touchdown,” Evans said. “It's a humbling experience for me. I'm glad it happened.”
He's not glad in the seconds after a gaffe. Evans slapped his hands together in frustration when he saw Conley rise to his feet in the end zone seven months ago.
The sting is still fresh in Evans' mind.
And he knows disappointment will return on a random Saturday this fall.
“You've got to learn to live with it and move on, especially playing corner,” he said. “You've got to have a short memory. It's all about making the next play. I've got to progress and try to get better.”