In the world of football, success stories often begin with a dream and a drive to overcome challenges.
Former BUCS Champion and current Newport County forward, Will Evans is one such inspiring tale that emphasizes the pivotal role that UK university football played in shaping his career.
Evans attended Cardiff Met University from 2015-2018, and achieved remarkable success with the university football team whilst studying toward his bachelors degree in Sports Coaching.
From captaining his university team to its first ever national title to being part of the first side to advance to the UEFA Europa League, Evans is one of many former BUCS athletes to transition their university sport careers into the professional realm.
With Evan’s League Two side Newport County set to host Manchester United in the fourth round of the FA Cup this weekend, we spoke with the talented forward about his incredible journey, from university football to the English Football League Two.
Discovering UK University Football
Evans’ journey into football started at an early age when he signed with Shrewsbury Town Academy at just nine years old. A twist of fate led to his discovery by the academy, as a letter from his brother opened the doors to a footballing journey that would shape Evans’ future.
However, after five years at Shrewsbury, the dream of becoming a professional footballer hit a roadblock when he was released at the age of 15. Undeterred, Evans found renewed passion for the game during his university years.
“My love for football was reinvigorated when I attended Cardiff Metropolitan University in 2015. I had no idea of what university football entailed, how many teams there were, or what the standard was, I just knew I wanted to play football while studying.”
Evans stumbled upon the Cardiff Met football team through a friend during his university days. What started as a trial for £3 turned into a life-changing opportunity, with Evans swiftly moving from trialist to first-team player.
The university football experience not only provided a platform for enjoyment but also laid the groundwork for his development as a player.
“I went into the trial thinking football was always going to be second to my studies, and more of a way of just enjoying the university experience. After 20, 30 minutes in, I was then asked to train with the first team. When I look back at big moments into my career, I’d say that was that was one of the biggest.”
BUCS Glory and UEFA Europa League Adventures
During his time at Cardiff Met, Evans achieved remarkable success in both BUCS and domestically with the university football team.
After leading the team as captain to their first ever BUCS Football Championship, an experience he describes as “unbelievable”, Evans and his side went onto defend the national title and secure a second Championship the following year.
“I loved BUCS. You’re travelling all over the country facing the best players in university football every week. Testing yourselves against the best teams is something that you need to do in order to develop and grow as a player. To deliver the university’s first ever BUCS Championship title was great but to win it twice was just incredible.
From playing in BUCS on a Wednesday, then taking that into the weekend with the Cardiff Met University team, the experience definitely benefited me and was perfect for my development.”
As well as reaching the top domestic league in Welsh football, the university team was also the first side to advance to the UEFA Europa League, appearing in the preliminary rounds of the 2019-20 competition and marking a historic achievement that left an indelible mark on Evans’ career.
“Being part of that experience is something that will never leave me. Having the opportunity to even qualify for such a prestigious competition the, it’s a massive achievement.
We played two legs against a top side from Luxembourg. From playing in the BUCS competitions and in the domestic league on a Saturday, this was a level above what I was used to. The whole experience of going away, having three days overseas with the squad, climatizing and training in the ground, then competing against top European players was really special.”
University Football as a Stepping Stone to Professional Success
Reflecting on his time at Cardiff Met and playing in the Cymru Premier, Evans highlights the similarities between university football and professional leagues. He believes university football serves as a valuable stepping stone, offering young talents the opportunity to gain experience and bridge the gap between domestic and professional football.
For aspiring student-athletes juggling academics and football aspirations, Evans shared his thoughts on the importance of finding a balance and having a backup plan through academic pursuits.
“Finding the right balance between studying and playing is key. With playing football alongside my degree, I knew that if it didn’t work out in a professional setup, I had something to fall back on.
On top of that, if something was to happen to me and my career got cut short, I’ve always got a degree that I can put to use or even expand. So ultimately it’s all about finding a balance as a student-athlete then working hard on and off the pitch.”
The Impact of Elite University Sport Facilities
During his time as a student, Will highlighted the growth that he witnessed in the improvement of sporting facilities both on campus and when visiting universities across the UK. Evans sees modern facilities as crucial not only for elite athletes but for players of any level who are looking to improve and develop alongside their studies.
“The elite facilities at universities across the UK now make a difference for every sports team.
In football, even if you’re playing in the sixth team and you’re able to use a state-of-the-art gym, there’s no doubt that’s going to benefit you. And if you are in the first team and you feel like you’re at the pinnacle, having access to the best facilities is only going to improve you as both an athlete and a player.”
After graduating with his Bachelor’s Degree in Sports Coaching, Evans moved to Cymru Premier team, Bala Town in August 2020. After contributing 11 goals in 24 games in his final campaign, he also made his international debut for the Wales C side, scoring twice in a 4-0 win over England.
Signing For Newport County
Will signed for League Two side, Newport County in May 2022 and since made over 70 appearances with the Exiles. Now in his second season, Evans made headlines at the beginning of the campaign by becoming the first player in the top four tiers of English football to score 10 goals.
Currently League Two’s third highest goalscorer with 15 goals in 28 matches, Evans will be looking to continue his fine form in front of goal this weekend against the most successful club in Premier League history.
Whilst the upcoming FA Cup match against Manchester United represents a significant milestone in his football career, Will reflects on the incredible journey that brought him to this moment, emphasizing the crucial role played by his time at university.
““From when I started in men’s football at the age of 16, I’ve always just looked to build on the previous season. From playing for the reserves team, into a first team, then going to university, trying to break into the first team, playing in the top flight of football, qualifying for Europe etc.
And I always look back to my time at Cardiff Met University where I was training as if it was a full time setup with some really, really great coaches, and great players from all over the country.
The university experience allowed me to grow as both a person and as a player, and I don’t think I would be where I am now if it wasn’t for my time at Cardiff Met.
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With the stage set for a historic FA Cup clash, Will’s journey from Cardiff Met to Newport County exemplifies the potential and opportunities that the UK’s university football scene offers. His story highlights the impact of BUCS and university football on shaping professional careers.
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