Rashaan Evans hadn't been to Falcons headquarters before visiting as an unrestricted free agent a few weeks back, yet the veteran linebacker felt super comfortable in this new environment.
Why? There was a familiar face seemingly around every corner. Head coach Arthur Smith and defensive coordinator Dean Pees were the obvious ones, after he worked with them for years as a Tennessee Titan.
"When I went into the building, it felt like I was at home," Evans said in an interview with AtlantaFalcons.com. "There were so many faces I recognized, even guys I've never played with, but I know from playing in football all these years. Over the course of time, I've met guys like Lorenzo Carter and some of the new signees. I've played with Marcus [Mariota]. Seeing them makes you want to be there. That was the biggest thing for me."
That was a driving force in Evans signing a contract to play for the 2022 Falcons.
Evans has found a place where he's comfortable in Pees' system, ready to compete and battle for a significant role on the Falcons defense. The former first-round pick comes armed with four years' NFL experience, physical, tone-setting defensive play and a leadership style based on giving [and expecting] maximum effort at all times.
He isn't looking at this as a needed opportunity for a fresh start, instead a chance to "pick up where he left off," after growing through some tougher stretches in Tennessee.
"That's what makes it so exciting," Evans said. "When you go through adversity, it gives you that extra tool, maybe some thicker armor that you need to handle the new success coming to you in the near future. That's what God prepared me for. I think everything happens for a reason, even up to right now and joining the Falcons, some great coaches and amazing fans. I think everything's coming together like it's supposed to."
His family might agree.
Rashaan Evans grew up in a rural stretch near Auburn, Ala., roughly two hours away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium. That means a long caravan will travel northeast for Sunday home games.
"I'm definitely going to have to reserve some tickets," Evans said. "As soon as Atlanta put it out there, my phone was blowing up. Everybody said, 'we're coming all the time. You're home now. We're coming to see you.' My mom and them used to drive five hours every time to come and see in Tennessee, so that got chopped down. This is a good situation, and a good situation for my family as well. They can go out and make a short drive to see their baby play. I plan on putting on a show for them."
It must've been quite a show seeing Evans and his brother Alex chasing horses around their family ranch before Rashaan turned pro. Yeah. You read that right. Evans would chase horses to improve his speed and agility.
I'll just get out of the way here and let him tell the story.
"We had a horse, and my brother was running track at the time and, for some reason he was outside, and I saw him chasing a horse. For me, I thought it was kinda bizarre. I asked, 'why would you be chasing a horse, who at any point might kick you and kill you?' That's how powerful those types of animals are.
"But, being my crazy self, I took it as a challenge. I thought I could do it, for sure. I did it. The first try I didn't get it. My brother had done it multiple times and he actually caught a horse. I started trying it and eventually I was able to do it. I started using it in my workout regimens.
"That was the type of thing I would do in the offseason during college. Now I haven't had opportunity to do it lately because, when you sign that NFL contract, you can only do certain things. I gotta make sure I stay healthy enough to play a full season. I had a crazy young lifestyle as far as doing things like that, always trying to get better."
You need some wide-open space to do something like that. The Evans family had acres of it, with fields and woods in the surrounding area to roam. Evans loved living in such an environment, which he credits for helping shape the player and person he is today.
"I'm a country boy," Evans said. "I grew up in the country in Auburn, Ala. We grew crops and we had animals. I definitely had an outside lifestyle. I never was really inside, and I never like it much. From that alone, me being from the country made me to the player I am today as far as work ethic. Everything we did was outside, and there was always work to be done.
"I think that's what helped me be the player I am today, from learning about work ethic and the types of things you have to do as a young man to be successful in life and in the NFL. I have to give credit to [my mom], and my pops as well, for doing the things they did for me leading up to this point."