The Evan Willsmore Story: Grinding From The Ground Up

The Evan Willsmore Story: Grinding From The Ground Up

The alternative football scene is all about providing opportunities. Whether it’s for players, coaches, staff, etc. – these spring leagues have been able to push so many careers forward in a positive way. For Evan Willsmore, a young and upcoming scout in the world of American football, he’s been able to grab hold of some tremendous opportunities that wouldn’t have come around without these platforms.

This journey for Evan started at a young age – and at just 20 years old, he’s already serving as an Assistant DPP for the IFL’s Vegas Knighthawks.

To fully understand where Evan has come from, and where he’s going, one has to start at the beginning of his story.

Falling In Love With The Game

Evan grew up in San Diego, primarily living in California for most of his young life. Willsmore was introduced to football in middle school, participating in flag football. This sparked his love for the game, which ultimately translated into his obsession with the sport.

“I think it goes back to middle school, when I had the opportunity to play flag football for the first time. I went to a private school, which had middle and high school on the same campus, so I had a different experience than most. We didn’t offer any form of football in high school, so 7th and 8th grade were the only times to try things out. I played on the offensive line, at both center and left guard. That was really where I got to know all of my friends that I still have today, and that really sparked my love for the game.”

Even though Evan didn’t get to play HS football, he stayed engaged with the game. As he went through high school, Willsmore developed a passion for pursuing football as a career path; which is something that grew over the coming years. He specifically looked to spring football, and the XFL, as inspiration for the vision he was curating for himself.

“The more I watched the game, the more I realized how fun it was, and I saw how many opportunities could be in that field. I really took a liking to where the players came from. In 2020, I followed the XFL, and once I saw guys like P.J. Walker move up to the NFL level, I thought those were really cool stories. I wanted to have a larger role in that. Even from a young age, making sure that players were recognized and got to live out their dream – that’s something I wanted to be a part of. I saw what the XFL was doing with player development, and I thought it was interesting. I told myself ‘you can really build something from this’”

Moving To LSU Opens Doors

As Evan completed high school, he decided to make the move to Louisiana, to go to LSU for college. This move allowed him to be relatively close to Texas, which would prove to be another beneficial factor in his football career.

Willsmore ended up covering the Houston Roughnecks for XFL News Hub during the 2023 XFL season. Being able to travel to Houston and cover the games not only opened his eyes to what goes on behind the scenes in pro football, but it also allowed him to meet and network with new people .

“I think going to the games, meeting some of the players and coaches, is really what enhanced the experience. I had been deeply involved for a while, I had done some college scouting and journalism for a couple of years at that point. But going to the games introduced some brand new elements.”

While Evan covered the Roughnecks, he utilized his networking skills to connect with those who could help him improve upon his craft. One of those connections would end up being John Murphy, Assistant General Manager for the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts.

“When I was covering the Roughnecks, one of the guys I met was John Murphy, who lives in Houston. I was sitting with him up in the Press Box and we got down to talking about some of the players he got to recruit up in Canada. WR Cam Phillips, who was with the Roughnecks in 2020 for example, went to play there. We got deeper and deeper into the conversation, and he saw that I had a very serious interest in this and obviously knew a lot about the game.”

A simple conversation turned into a tremendous opportunity for Evan. Murphy happened to know Mike Davis, who was the GM and Head Coach for the IFL’s Vegas Knighthawks, through their previous work with another CFL team (Saskatchewan Roughriders). John helped connect Evan with Mike down the road, which began Willsmore’s first steps into the pro football scene as a talent evaluator.

Taking The Next Steps

While he didn’t immediately get the IFL gig, Evan was able to utilize some of these connections to continue to pursue his goals. After the XFL season was over, Evan went home, and took some time to reflect. He felt like it was time to take “the jump” into something that was “a bit more hands on”. Evan wanted something that was tangible in terms of working with players and evaluating talent.

He looked at some potential CFL fits, but there weren’t any true openings with his connections up there. Plus, he knew he’d need more experience to secure a job of that caliber. He began to take a closer look at the IFL, seeing that there could be some openings at that level to get something under his belt on his resume.

“I was, at first, not too enthusiastic about the indoor/arena game. I thought it would be too different for my liking. It obviously stands out when compared to traditional football, or even a league like the CFL which has its quirks to say the least. While I was hesitant, I heard from so many players how it was a great chance to develop and get better. I started reaching out to some IFL teams, and heard back from Iowa, Green Bay, then Vegas with Mike Davis. He was the guy who took me the most seriously, and we had an introductory phone call which was about an hour long.”

The timing of these conversations worked out perfectly. Willsmore actually attended a couple of XFL showcases, including one that featured the IFL and its players/personnel last summer.

“In 2023, the IFL and XFL had a partnership…and they had a joint combine in Las Vegas. I ended up going out there, and was able to meet Mike for the first time, and talk a bit more in person. A couple of days after that, he called me and said that they were going to bring me on for this season. I’m very grateful for him, for the league, and that really was the start of everything I’ve been doing for the past year.”

Working In The Arena Scene

Within a couple of days of the IFL-XFL showcase, Davis gave Evan a call. He offered him a position with the team, and Willsmore accepted without hesitation. As a 19 year old, he was already moving up the ladder, taking one step at a time.

Over the past year, Evan has worked closely with Mike Davis and other Vegas coaches to help recruit and attract quality talent to the team. It’s a bit of an adjustment for Evan, as the player pool for arena football has differences compared to the one for the UFL or CFL.

“When you’re looking at guys and they’re coming in from other leagues, or out of college, they have to be fast. In any league, it’s becoming more important. Especially indoors with a shorter field. It’s 8 on 8 football. If you’re not fast, you’re not going to last. There’s a bit of a wider variety in terms of size, but you still want guys to be at an ideal range within their position group. Mobility, specifically at quarterback, is something we focus on. Your QB has to move quickly in this league.”

What’s quite impressive is the fact that Evan has been juggling all of this, while still maintaining his status of a college student at LSU. It’s a lot to stay on top of, but Willsmore’s work ethic is what keeps him grinding through it all. Plus, with college being the way it is in today’s society with a lot of work being done remotely, it makes it easier for him to keep a smooth balance.

“I feel like college, in certain ways, was a nice transition coming out of a private high school. Some things eased up a bit. You have more freedom, you don’t have to be in the classroom all the time. Something isn’t due every day. Having the flexibility is what allows me to have the job that I do at 20 years old. It allows me to travel more, and work from wherever. I’ve learned how to manage my time well. I don’t have a lot going on outside of school and football. Football has taken up most of my life going back the past four, five years. I’m very fortunate not only to be so passionate about a specific field, but that someone was willing to give me an opportunity to help build a team – you don’t see a lot of people my age doing that. It speaks to hard work, dedication, and professionalism.”

The Tangibles

To have already accomplished so much in such a short time frame is unheard of. Evan Willsmore and his desire to be great is unmatched in this scene, and it’s why he’s been able to move up the ranks so quickly. Without his determination to put the work in on a daily basis, these opportunities would have never surfaced in the manner that they did.

“To put it simply, I work hard. I’m always a phone call away. I’m not afraid of a challenge. There’s times where I’ve stayed up till 4 in the morning on a school night breaking down film or making a new connection within the sport – I don’t shy away from that stuff. I feel like if I sit and don’t make some kind of progress, someone is going to take the opportunity away from me. That’s the competitive side of the industry.”

Aside from his diligent attitude and work ethic, Evan’s been through quite a few hurdles that have allowed him to mature beyond his years. For example, he was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease several years back, which is something he’s had to push through during this process.

“I’ve had a lot of things in my life that I feel like have aged me a bit beyond my years. It’s something I’ve heard from a lot of people who are older than me. I’ve faced a number of health challenges. When I was two years old, I was diagnosed with Autism. When I was 15, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Of course COVID was a universal issue, but presented it’s own set of issues and concerns as well. All of these things I’ve had to overcome – not only have they pushed me harder, but they’ve given me a better and more complete outlook on the world. I think that’s why, at 20 years old, I can present myself very professionally.”

The Future Ahead

As Evan continues as an Assistant DPP with the Vegas Knighthawks, the bigger picture is always in play. The IFL is an excellent stepping stone not just for players, but for coaches and staff such as Willsmore. With his knowledge and love for the game, paired with the experience he is rapidly building onto his resume, there’s no limits as to what his future may hold.

“I want to keep networking. Keep meeting people. Just because I have this job now in the IFL, and added a lot to my resume over the last year, doesn’t mean I’ve ran out of room to grow. I’ve been able to recruit some really good players from a variety of places. Some guys who were in the NFL, some who were at Power-5 schools, or some from D-2…I like having that diversity. The point for me is to keep my foot on the gas. I don’t want to be content. Fortunately I’ve been able to gain trust with a lot of my connections, specifically in the CFL. Being able to recommend players to folks up there, and have them recommend players to me – that was something I couldn’t do a year ago.”

As for the opportunities he’d look to have, Evan is keeping his options open. Ideally, he’ll go anywhere if that means he can keep moving up the ranks.

“I would go work in any state or even country for football, as long as the opportunity was right and I got to do what I loved. I think some people aren’t as comfortable with that. Obviously Vegas is nice, and we have some good amenities there, but if there was an opportunity in the future with another league, I wouldn’t be afraid to adapt to potential change and continue proving myself. This game has truly changed my life, whether it’s indoor football or outdoor football, this is something I want to be a part of for a long time.”

It’s such an encouraging thing to see spring & alt-football providing non-traditional career paths for everyone involved, including those such as Evan Willsmore, who are working their way from the bottom up. He’s had a remarkable journey so far, and the crazy part is: he’s only just getting started.

The sky’s the limit for what Evan’s capable of accomplishing in this scene, and we’re looking forward to seeing the new heights he reaches from year to year.

What are your thoughts on a story such as Evan Willsmore in the spring football scene? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!