The two battled almost daily for position on the depth chart at cornerback, and for nearly the entirely of their careers, the two were competitors on the field and best friends off it.
This spring, Miller still sees Evans over his shoulder, but they’re no longer competing. Instead of hoping to take Miller’s job at corner, Evans now has his back as Georgia starting safety.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing,” Miller said. “We’re real close, so for us both to go from fighting over a position to being out there at the same time, I think it’s a great thing.”
For three years, Evans and Miller have been as close as any two players on Georgia’s roster, and the competition on the field has never strained their relationship.
For three years, the two have offered words of advice, words of encouragement and a good bit of playful trash talk, but while each has strived for a starting job, they’ve always wanted to see the other succeed, too.
Now that they’re both on the field together for the first time as starters, that relationship they forged as competitors is paying dividends. Safeties and corners need to work together, freshman Brandon Boykin said, and Miller and Evans seem to read each other’s minds.
“Just the communication they have, they know things they don’t have to tell each other,” Boykin said. “Prince automatically knows the play just because they’ve had that relationship for so long.”
Having both defensive backs on the field together has been a pleasant transition for everyone involved. From the coaching staff down to the younger players in the secondary, everyone seems to be enjoying the on-field dynamic the two friends have created.
During any close competition, players are bound to talk a little smack. But during their time together at Georgia, Evans and Miller have turned trash talk into an art form. They still have a few choice comments directed at each other, defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said, but now that both will be seniors, they’re trying to use their particular brand of humor to help form the foundation of the rest of the secondary, too.
“One thing about those two guys is you know that they’re practicing because they’re not going to be quiet,” Martinez said. “They’re not shy guys. They’re talking, they’re encouraging, they’re critiquing their own players, and that’s what we need from those two guys.”
It’s not all critiques and laughs for the senior defensive backs, however.
The competition between the two essentially ended midway through the 2008 season when Evans, who opened the year as the starter, struggled through consecutive dismal performances on the field. First he was benched, then he was moved from the position he had played for the past three years.
But Evans never complained. He approached the transition to safety with enthusiasm, and Miller was there to support his friend the whole way.
“If I have a bad play, he’ll come over and let me know what I did wrong,” Evans said. “That’s always good to have. That’s what it’s been with me moving to safety.”
The dynamic of their relationship has been forged over a long career together, and now both players are hoping to take the same attitude with the rest of their teammates in the secondary.
With veterans Asher Allen and CJ Byrd gone, the burden of leading the younger defensive backs has fallen to Evans and Miller. It’s a role Miller said they have been training for since they arrived at Georgia.
“You have your ups and downs and you learn from your mistakes,” Miller said. “When you’ve been there, you can tell the players, you can lead them and let them know how it’s going to be.”
There’s no substitute for that type of experience, Martinez said, and it’s exactly what the secondary needs this season.
“I think what I’m looking for is leadership from them being older guys, being seniors who have played a lot of football,” Martinez said. “They’ve had some good times, they’ve had some bad times, but they have a tremendous amount of experience.”
Even through the toughest times, it’s that experience that Evans said is their best asset. It has given them the knowledge of what it takes to succeed, and that’s something they’re eager to pass on to their younger teammates. It has given them an understanding of what makes a good friendship, too, and that’s something he hopes with build success on the field and sustain their relationship long after their playing days end.
“It’s like we’ve been going at it so long,” Evans said. “Since he got here, me and him have been fighting over a starting spot. So just to know I can look over and see him to my right or my left and see him on my side, you know we’re just both going to benefit from it.”