HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Football players, for the most part, have their faces shielded by a helmet and protective mask.
Three games and four touchdowns ago, Marshall's Mr. Versatility, Troy Evans, did not play against UTEP. He sat on the aluminum bench on the home sideline and, because he didn't need his helmet that day, he knew his face would be in plain view.
So when he parked himself on the bench for nearly four quarters - he sneaked in for a few downs near the end of the game - Evans hung his head and draped a white towel over it to shroud his sadness.
The man known for his colorful hairstyles and cheery disposition had slipped into darkness.
His aunt, a woman named Tiffany Evans whom he refers to simply as "Auntie," had died earlier in the week. Troy Evans had flown to California and back for her funeral services, and returned to Huntington on a red-eye flight the morning of the UTEP game.
The coaching staff felt Evans, who had not practiced with the team that week, needed to sit this one out.
"I was down because I wanted to play for her," said Evans, a 5-foot-9 junior from Oakland, Calif.
"I made myself look a little bad that day and I just want to apologize to people for that. I was down on myself.
"I was upset because I wanted to be out there after the funeral. I wanted to play for her, but it was best for the team that I sit out. I didn't know the game plan so I sucked it up and got back out there at practice and pushed and pushed and pushed."
That was four touchdowns ago.
* * *
TIFFANY AND Troy Evans were bonded by a number: 21.
Troy's father - Tiffany's brother - passed away before the age of 21.
He died on the night of his senior prom after he was ejected from a car during a wreck.
Tiffany Evans took 2-year-old Troy under her care.
He bounced from town to town and home to home thereafter, but credits his Auntie with getting him to Huntington.
"She raised me," he said. "I was back and forth between homes and my Auntie always kept me humble and she raised me right. She stayed on top of me and played a very important role in my life."
Herd Coach Doc Holliday said, "Troy grew up in a tough area and he had some issues growing up with family."
Auntie was so concerned about her nephew's well being that when it came time for his senior prom, she discouraged him to attend.