Eagles introduce their top pick

MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Lane Johnson , with Howie Roseman, Chip Kelly at NovaCare.
MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Lane Johnson , with Howie Roseman, Chip Kelly at NovaCare.
Posted: April 28, 2013

ALL THE FANS and reporters yearning to know the identity of the Eagles' first-round draft choice before Thursday's start of the NFL draft should have just called James Evans, of Groveton, Texas.

Evans is a rancher with about 200 head of Angus cattle, he said Friday evening, from beneath the brim of a black cowboy hat, something one rarely encounters in the NovaCare auditorium. Evans said he has some horses, too, used to break horses when he was younger. But more important, Evans is the stepfather of Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson, whom the Birds took fourth overall, their highest draft selection in 14 years.

Evans, a former high school football coach, knew the Eagles had sent offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland to Groveton, and from watching college football, Evans figured he knew a little about the Birds' new coach, former Oregon coach Chip Kelly.

"I knew [Johnson] was coming to Philadelphia, because I knew who got the job here, and I knew what type of offense he ran," Evans said. "Lane fits right into that offense. Pulling out, zone blocking, second level, third level, whatever. Lane can do that. Y'all going to be very happy to get him."

Eagles general manager Howie Roseman was directed to stand next to Johnson, 6-6, 303 pounds, for a photo, with Kelly on Johnson's other flank.

"This is going to be great for me," Roseman joked, and sure enough, when Johnson held up the ceremonial No. 1 jersey chest-high, he nearly covered Roseman's face.

When he took the podium, Johnson initially hunkered down, almost in a three-point stance, until an Eagles staffer assured him that he could stand up, and that the microphone would still relay his words.

Johnson added close to 70 pounds during his journey from high school and junior-college quarterback to tight end, defensive end and finally offensive tackle for the Sooners.

"When I got to Oklahoma, they measured my frame," he said. "They measure the width of your chest and your hips and stuff like that, and my frame [indicated he should weigh] 265 . . . By my senior year, they said my frame was 325."

"He came home 2 weeks ago. I bought 36 eggs," Evans reflected. "I bought about 10 to 15 pounds of hamburger meat. Thursday night, cooked 20 burgers. Friday night, I came in to eat one, they were all gone. I said, 'Lane, where's all the hamburgers?' [Lane said] 'I ate 'em.' Saturday morning, I was going to cook breakfast. 'Lane, where's the eggs?' 'I ate 'em.' He'll fix about 16 or 17 at a time."

It has been quite an ascent from not being recruited out of Groveton and having to go to junior college to being taken fourth overall in the draft, but Evans, traveling yesterday with Johnson's mother, Ray Ann, and Johnson's wife, Chelsea, said the family wasn't dizzied or shocked.

"Lane has always said he was going to make it," Evans said. Even if he couldn't say where he'd be lining up.

"My main deal was, I was going to make it," Johnson said, when asked about going to Kilgore (junior) College from Groveton. "To be honest, going to junior college is kind of like a do-or-die situation, and survival of the fittest, so everybody's just trying to practice hard. Every time a scout or something comes around, it's like a 'Please get me out of here' kind of deal."

Groveton and its 1,100 or so citizens have been intently following Johnson's progress, Evans said. He figured about half those people texted him Thursday night or Friday.

"We're a small lumber-company town. Lot of timber or ranching," Evans said. "It's the county seat [of Trinity County]. You either work for the state or you're a rancher. That's about all there is is there."

Evans and his cowboy hat had never been to New York or Radio City Music Hall before the draft.

"It felt like we were fixin' to kick off a football game," he said Friday. "And after it was over . . . it felt like the game was over. I was 'give out'; I'd been sitting in that chair all night, but I was still tired. We had a great time."

Johnson had a great time Friday, he said. He seemed eager to explore his new home.

"I just heard the fans are probably the best," he said, astutely. "I talked to some of the fans earlier and I watched the movie 'Invincible.' I mean, the crowd gets rowdy every now and then, that's what it's all about. It's kind of like Texas, where I come from, if you ever watched 'Friday Night Lights.' I just think the whole culture here is all about football."

Johnson's intro took a strange turn when a TV reporter asked whether it was true he'd wrestled bears in Texas. This apparently arose from a question Johnson was asked by ESPN in New York, perhaps some sort of joke he willingly went along with. Friday, Johnson burnished the bear-wrestling legend, telling reporters that this happened on an uncle's ranch, that he wrestled black bears but not grizzlies.

A few minutes later, Johnson made a trip into the media room to clarify that he'd been kidding, that there wasn't any bear wrestling. At least he didn't tell us the imaginary bears had died tragically, ala Manti Te'o's imaginary girlfriend.

On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian

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