HAMMONTON - Ian Evans had modest plans for high school.

The Atco resident would play sports at Hammonton High School, graduate and then get a job. Maybe in a few years, he'd go to community college.

Football changed everything.

The 6-foot-2, 235-pound senior tight end and defensive end will attend the University of Maryland on a Division I scholarship. Evans verbally committed to the Atlantic Coast Conference school last spring. Maryland wants him for defense.

"I never thought I'd go to college," he said.

His mother Doreen Lynch is determined not to let him squander the opportunity.

"I'm a single parent," she said. "I would never be able to do this for him. Maryland is really great school. It's a great opportunity. I feel like I hit the lottery."

Evans and the Blue Devils open the 2009 season with a key Cape-Atlantic League American Conference game at Absegami today. Kickoff is 7 p.m.

Evans is the least-hyped, best player in southern New Jersey.

He is a force on offense and defense. A stand-up defensive end, he rushes quickly off the edge of the offensive line to pressure quarterbacks.

On offense, Evans is a big target who can catch the ball over the middle and then shed would-be tacklers.

Nearly all Division I prospects are highly touted as freshmen and sophomores. Evans didn't play varsity until last year as a junior.

He was surprised when colleges began sending him recruiting letters. The first one he received came from Syracuse last February.

"I didn't think I was good enough to play at that level," he said. "I was ecstatic."

Evans chose Maryland over Syracuse, Temple and Rutgers.

"I visited Maryland twice," he said. "The coaches really cared about my education."

Maryland coaches cannot comment on Evans because he has not yet signed a national letter of intent. Evans can't sign that letter until the first Wednesday in February 2010, under NCAA regulations.

What makes Evans' story even more unlikely is his high school.

Few teams can match Hammonton's tradition of excellence. The Blue Devils have qualified for the playoffs 25 times and won four South Jersey titles.

But Hammonton has not produced many scholarship players. Wide receiver Tommy Crosby, a 2006 graduate, plays for Delaware, a Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) school. Rick Amos, a 2003 graduate, played for the U.S. Naval Academy.

But Evans is one of the first Hammonton players to attend a Division I school in a Bowl Championship Series conference.

"He's got size and speed to go along with it," Hammonton coach Pete Lancetta said. "He can run like a running back, and he's very versatile."

College coaches also project that with his frame Evans could easily gain 20 to 30 more pounds, according to Lancetta.

Evans might be better known now if he had believed more in himself as a freshman and sophomore.

"We never had a freshman who could do the things he could do physically when he wanted to," Lancetta said. "That was the key."

Evans needed to have more passion for the game.

"He's very laid back," Lancetta said. "We always felt physically he had the potential to be a Division I player. But he didn't assert himself until his junior year."

Evans made 82 tackles with eight sacks and three interceptions last season. He also caught 11 passes for 220 yards and six touchdowns.

The Blue Devils finished 9-3 and lost in the South Jersey Group III final to Shawnee. With Evans and several other standouts back, expectations are high this season. Hammonton is No. 8 in The Press' Elite 11.

Evans admits he still feels pressure because he was such an unknown before last season.

"I still think some people doubt me," Evans said.

Rare is the athlete who is not thrilled to receive a Division I scholarship. But some players are so highly publicized they become blase about the recruiting process.

Not Evans.

He still has every letter every college sent him in a box in his bedroom.

E-mail Michael McGarry:

Hammonton (0-0)

at Absegami (0-0)

When: 7 p.m. today at Absegami

Key players for Hammonton: Nick Crescenzo, QB/WR/DB; David Crescenzo, RB; Ian Evans, TE/DE.

Key players for Absegami: Ben Martin, RB; Bobby Riley, LB; David Hood, RB.

Why this game is so important: This is a matchup of Cape-Atlantic League American Conference contenders. Hammonton is No. 8 in The Press' Elite 11 and expected to challenge for the South Jersey Group III title. The Blue Devils were 9-3 and lost in the South Jersey Group III final to Shawnee last season. Absegami, 5-5 last season, is still building but returns several standouts from last season's team.

Last three meetings:

2008: Hammonton 34, Absegami 7

2007: Hammonton 28, Absegami 7

2006: Absegami 14, Hammonton 7

Tonight's breakdown:

Hammonton overwhelmed Absegami last season. The Blue Devils broke big plays and took advantage of turnovers to build a 27-0 lead with a little more than two minutes still left in the first quarter. Absegami must avoid a similar fate tonight. The Braves will try to control the game and clock with their potent running game. Hammonton, a perennial power, has as much speed at the skill positions as its ever had. But the Blue Devils' inexperienced linemen will be tested tonight.