ENTERPRISE — Enterprise senior Trace Evans wants to dispel a view that being from a small town severely reduces an athlete’s chances to play at the collegiate level.

Evans, a standout wrestler for the Outlaws, signed his letter of intent Sunday, May 2, to wrestle for the University of Saint Mary, an NAIA program based in Leavenworth, Kansas.

“You hear a lot, ‘I’m from a small school, I’m not going to go anywhere,’” Evans said. “I really hope ... in doing this (that) I help set an example to younger kids who (are) in the same position I once was. Just because I’m from a small school doesn’t mean I can’t do good things.”

Evans, who said he was recruited by roughly 40 schools, landed a near full-ride scholarship to Saint Mary, a combination of his prowess on the wrestling mat and in the classroom. He was the runner-up at state in the Class 2A classification in the 2019-20 season — the last one before the pandemic started. Evans has wrestled in several tournaments for the Oregon National Team since last taking the mat in an Oregon State Athletic Association event, and carries a 3.76 GPA.

At the state level, he had a third-place finish in 2018-19 to go with his second-place effort a year ago, both at 138 pounds.

He said he selected USM in large part because of head coach Chuck Kearney. Kearney was a former two-time state champion from Sandy, and a former University of Oregon head coach who, according to the USM website, has more than 30 years of coaching experience.

“He was really easy going,” Evans said. “(He said), ‘You are going to be well taken care of here.’ When I went and visited the campus, it was a great campus.”

Evans also was a fan of the approach Kearney takes to recruiting, noting the coach said his focus is to take a smaller number of athletes and hone in on them to try and build high-end wrestlers.

The EHS standout, who will wrestle at 149 pounds for the Spires, said many of the coaches who recruited him commented on his balanced wrestling skills, and liked that he was moldable as a grappler.

And although he’s a strong technical wrestler, his smarts on the mat may be what has set him apart during his career.

“I’ve never been the biggest guy, never been the strongest guy, for sure,” he said. “I always make it a point to attempt to be the smartest. My dad always told me to wrestle smart. … That, along with having the willpower and stuff to work harder every day and go the extra mile, has helped me in my high school career.”

Indeed, it has taken a lot of self-motivation to develop into a high-caliber wrestler given the smaller size of the EHS program.

The fact, though, that he has already had ample success in a small program excites him for what could be ahead.

“The biggest thing I have going for me is my best wrestling is ahead of me,” he said. “I have had to push myself hard, and don’t have the same facilities a lot of kids in college have.”

That’s not to say he has done it alone. He was quick to commend those around him, including coaches and family, who have helped build him.

“There have always been great people to help me get to where I am today,” he said.

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