Last fall, Evan Lisle realized his college football dream wasn’t going to live up to expectations.
An Ohio native, Lisle naturally accepted Ohio State’s offer to play for the Buckeyes in 2012. A redshirt season followed by three seasons as a backup offensive lineman told Lisle it was time to head elsewhere.
“It was always my dream to go to Ohio State,” Lisle said. “I had a good experience there. It was time for a change, and I think, looking back at it, you wish you’d have looked at a school like Duke. But it was my dream school. Once they offered that was pretty much it.”
The opportunity for better days is clearly at hand for the 6-7, 308-pound Lisle. After graduating from Ohio State in December and enrolling at Duke as a graduate student in January, Lisle begins spring practice with the Blue Devils Friday morning with a shot at becoming their starting right tackle.
“Evan is a mature, big, physical, young man,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “We felt like with the balance of our classes, he was the perfect fit. He brings everything we believe in with him. I knew that. It was a careful process for us. I know how excited he is, and we are. Right now, he’s going to have an opportunity to come out and win that right tackle job for us. That’s what he’s going to line up one day doing. I’m looking forward to seeing him compete.”
Lisle starred at Centreville High School, about an hour’s car ride from Ohio State’s campus. That school also produced Ohio State players Michael Bennett, A.J. Hawk, Mike Nugent and Kirk Herbstreit.
Lisle was a four-star recruit out of high school, rated among the top five players in the state as a senior.
After taking a redshirt in 2013 and not playing a down in 2014, he played just 36 plays on offense as in 2015. Still a reserve last season, he knew his college career would end at another school.
“At midseason,” Lisle said, “I knew I was going to be looking somewhere else so I really tried to focus every day to improving my skills, working toward my next opportunity and where the next place was gonna be. I feel like I made really great steps.”
Lisle received permission from Ohio State to begin contacting other schools about a transfer. He narrowed his choices to Northwestern, Duke, Virginia and Boston College.
At midseason, I knew I was going to be looking somewhere else so I really tried to focus every day to improving my skills, working toward my next opportunity and where the next place was gonna be.
He’d had no previous contact with Duke during his high school recruitment but mutual interest quickly grew this time.
Separate meetings with Duke assistant coaches Matt Guerrieri and Marcus Johnson sealed the deal. Lisle decided on Duke without visiting campus.
“What made Duke stand out was the passion you felt from the coaches and also the players,” Lisle said. “That Duke name. That Duke school is going to stay with you the rest of your life. It was just the total package.”
After Ohio State lost to Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinals, Lisle made his way to Duke for the first time. He’s not looking back.
“Ever since I stepped on campus I’ve been 100 percent sure I made the right decision,” Lisle said.
Lisle said he improved greatly as a player in practices at Ohio State because he worked against some of the nation’s top players, like defensive end Joey Bosa. The No. 3 overall pick in the NFL draft by San Diego last year, Bosa recorded 10.5 sacks in 12 games as a rookie.
“You really develop quick there,” Lisle said.
Lisle also developed an intense work ethic playing for famously intense coach Urban Meyer.
“Every single second is geared to not losing one game, to making it to the Big Ten championship and hopefully the national championship,” Lisle said. “That was all we looked at. You pick up on that passion and that desire. It burns itself in your character and you are constantly working, working, working toward that goal.”
Casey Blaser started at right tackle for Duke last season but completed his career. That leaves a starting job wide open for Lisle to win.
He’s already comfortable with Duke’s coaches and his new teammates.
“I think what really stuck out in recruiting and now that I’m here is I trusted them in what they were saying and I come and it’s exactly what they said,” Lisle said. “You work extremely hard here, but they really care about you. That’s something I can’t stress enough is how much they care about our players. I can’t say enough how excited I am to be here. I’m extremely happy.”
Steve Wiseman: 919-419-6671; @stevewisemanNC