NASHVILLE, Tenn. — On a football field, Tennessee Titans RB Darrynton Evans is a headache for defenses.
The 2020 third-round pick has blazing speed and impressive quickness. He’s also highly versatile; at one point in college, Appalachian State University listed him as both a receiver and running back on its official roster.
Outside of football, Evans has a unique passion that, until recently, was a bit of a secret to most of his fans and even his NFL teammates—he writes, records, produces and publishes hip-hop music.
“It’s kind of therapeutic,” Evans said. “Whenever you want to talk to somebody, it’s a different way to talk to somebody. It’s kind of like poetry—putting it into words and making it sound good to the ear.”
Though Evans isn’t looking to replace his career in the NFL with one in the music business, his music creation has gone beyond “hobby” territory. He’s been honing his craft for years and, in February, he released his first EP, “Rookie of the Year.”
He has a home music studio, and he wants to open a full studio someday. In January, he posted to Twitter that he was considering going back to school to study musical engineering and production.
He’s even collaborated with fellow App State alumnus Luke Combs, the reigning Country Music Association Male Artist of the Year.
Evans reached out to Combs on Twitter after joining the Titans, and the two have been connecting ever since.
“He used to come to our practices, our games, and he did concerts on campus all the time,” Evans said.
“He’s actually been helping me out on the side with some stuff that nobody knows about,” Evans said.
How does an NFL rookie end up as a music producer and writer who’s rubbed elbows with a major country music star? For Evans, it all began in a high-school computer lab.
“EVERYTHING CAME TO HIM NATURALLY.”
OUT NOW ‼️🏆 pic.twitter.com/9D0Lsg7VfR
— Darrynton Evans (@ItzLiveee) February 8, 2021
While attending New Smyrna Beach High School in Florida, Evans wasn’t just a star on the football team. He was also a student in the highly popular and selective Academy of Entertainment and Sports Marketing, one of many career-readiness programs the school offered.
Evans was one of 60 students chosen for the program from around 200 applicants. Matt Dixon, the director, chose Evans because of his intellect and passion for sports.
“He’s a very smart young man, so everything pretty much came to him naturally,” said Dixon, who coached offensive linemen on the football team in addition to running the Academy. “He’s one of those that I know, as soon as he’s done in the league, there’s no doubt he’s going to be a successful businessman.”
Being in the Academy, which focuses heavily on digital content creation using software like Photoshop, meant that Evans had access to the computer lab in which Dixon taught the classes.
He became one of many students in the Academy who spent their breaks during the school day in the lab making original content unrelated to schoolwork.
While some of Evans’ classmates, several of whom were also on the football team, created comedy sketches to play on the school news, he focused on music.
“I would go in there during our hour lunch,” Evans said. “I’d grab my food, go to the classroom, get on GarageBand, then sit and mess with the program and make beats.”
Before working on the computers in Dixon’s classroom, Evans’ only real music experience was playing around with a drum that his older brother, a member of his middle school’s marching band, brought home to use for practicing.
Slowly but surely, though, mostly through trial and error, Evans figured out how to create beats he was pleased with. Eventually, he got some of his teammates in on the fun.
“As I’m making beats, they’d be in there either rapping, singing, doing whatever they were doing, freestyling to my beats,” Evans said.
Spending that time together in Dixon’s classroom allowed Evans and his teammates to create a unique bond that translated to the football field.
“We all had a very good time, especially in that classroom,” said TJ Goodknecht, one of New Smyrna Beach’s primary quarterbacks during Evans’ time on the team.
“We were definitely a big family. That’s what sports marketing was all about.”
All the while, Kevin Hubbard, New Smyrna Beach’s head football coach from 2015-2017, was unaware of his team’s shared interest in digital content creation.
The first he heard of Evans’ interest in music was in February when he released his EP.
“When I saw that he was pushing the music, it completely shocked me. I had no clue,” Hubbard said.
“He’s a great football player and a great student, but he wasn’t loud. Quite frankly, he was kind of quiet. When I heard that he’s rapping, I was like, ‘dude, you rap?'”
“IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU WENT TO A REAL STUDIO.”
Huge Thank You & Shoutout to the @AvidProTools Family for the hook up! I am now able to perfect my craft of making quality music safely at home‼️
More music on the way 🔥 LMK what y’all think 🤔👀 🏆 pic.twitter.com/czCMb5tuU9
— Darrynton Evans (@ItzLiveee) March 4, 2021
When Evans graduated from New Smyrna Beach and the sports marketing program in 2016, he bought his own Mac computer, headed to App State and shifted from merely creating beats on GarageBand to writing lyrics and producing full songs.
Evans began spending time practicing alone to perfect his writing craft as much as possible. He started producing complete songs using his dorm room as a recording studio.
Once he felt comfortable, he began sharing some of his creations with his teammates.
They were quickly impressed.
“I’d say, ‘tell me the quality of this, how does this sound?’ And they’d say, ‘it sounds like you went to a real studio,'” Evans said.
As Evans began sharing his music with his App State teammates, he learned that many of them had a similar interest in writing and producing, namely fellow running back Jalin Moore.
Moore, who graduated from App State in 2019 and spent some time with the New York Jets, had developed a strong reputation among his teammates for his rapping ability. He frequently freestyled in the locker room, and the songs he recorded were popular all over campus.
When he met Evans in 2016, he took him under his wing.
“Darrynton’s one of those guys who is just so smart that it’s not hard for him to do too many things,” Moore said.
“I realized that from when he was a freshman. He came in and had natural talent. Learning the playbook, picking up plays—it was easy. All he had to do other than that was play, really. It was the same thing with music.”
“THE MUSIC MADE IT HIT OVER THE TOP.”
Moore and Evans spent several days after practice and during the offseason working together on music in App State’s on-campus recording studio—an acoustically treated room in the library with a professional microphone, audio controls, musical instruments and a computer with recording software.
Eventually, other App State players started joining them for recording sessions.
The football team, particularly its running backs, developed somewhat of a music production subculture, and the recording studio was suddenly being flooded with football players in addition to App State’s music students.
“Of course they would have to use it and book it out for class and real assignments that they had to do,” Moore said. “But if they weren’t in there, somebody on the football team had it.”
The time that Evans and his App State teammates spent together recording music had the same effect as the time he spent in the computer lab with his New Smyrna Beach teammates in high school: it cemented a brotherhood.
“We were already tight as a running back group, and we were already cool as friends,” Evans said. “The music made it hit over the top.”
Moore agreed with Evans’ assessment.
“I can’t even imagine how much closer it brought us without us even knowing,” Moore said.
“We just tried to create good songs, but we created chemistry while doing it.”
ONTO THE TITANS
The logical next step for Evans after graduating from App State would have been to bring his music into the Titans’ locker room, but the COVID-19 pandemic prevented that from happening during his rookie season.
Most of his teammates weren’t even aware of his passion for music until he released his EP in February.
All-Pro running back Derrick Henry, for one, was shocked.
“When I first put it out, Derrick was like, ‘why didn’t you tell me you make music?'” Evans said.
But now that the pandemic is hopefully nearing an end and NFL team operations will likely regain some degree of normalcy in 2021, Evans plans to bring his music into the Titans’ locker room just like he did at New Smyrna Beach and App State.
If the Titans are lucky, Evans’ music will bring their players closer together just as it did for the Mountaineers of App State and the Barracudas of New Smyrna Beach.
Cover image: Christopher Hanewinckel / USA Today