Sonora High School senior and Mother Lode League Co-MVP for the 2018 football season, Evan Bearden, has committed to play tight end with the Division 1 UC Davis Aggies next year.

“His teammates know how hard he worked, how talented he is. They were extremely proud of his achievement,” said Sonora High School Coach Brian Craig.

Bearden, 17, said he never expected to play at the collegiate level when he picked up the game of football at age 7. He also never expected to become one of the leaders of the Sonora High School football team (7-5), who won the 2018 Mother Lode League for their fifth year in a row and fell to Colfax in the CIF Sac Joaquin Division V semi-finals.

But Bearden has known for much of his life — over 13 years — that to achieve his educational and athletic goals, he had to overcome his chief disability: a speech impediment that makes it difficult for him to converse with others, or even express himself.

“At moments it’s worse than other times, but I always try to speak fluently,” he said. “When I was younger I would always rely on my parents or sisters to talk for me, but now with the speech training, I am able to push through the fear of talking to people.”

When Bearden speaks, he often takes long pauses between words. What might take the average high schooler a few seconds to say, could take Bearden a minute.

But like on the football field, there are few obstacles that can keep Bearden from saying or doing what he wants you to know.

“I try to lead by doing things correctly instead of being loud and jumping around and getting the guys riled up,” he said. “The football team was able to help me become more comfortable in my skin and build relationships with my teammates that make me more comfortable.”

Bearden, who was also in eighth grade when he was diagnosed with dyslexia. While playing at Sonora High School, which places a chief importance on academic rigor and a GPA requirement for their players, Bearden was doubly challenged to excel.

“That says so much about him, by itself,” Craig said. “He had to qualify for a university. He had to qualify with those disabilities that he overcame and he had to be an outstanding football player as well.”

Bearden said much of his personal success could be credited to the teachers who helped him with schoolwork and the friends who supported his education.

“They were all really supportive of me. That helped me a lot,” he said.

Bearden said he did not experience any bullying as a result of his condition, and found the majority of his school experiences to be uplifting.

At UC Davis, he plans on studying business.

“First off my goal is to get my education and try and play for four to five years,” he said. “To play after is an opportunity that would be great, but my education is my main focus.”

Bearden’s stats and size (6 ft. 5 in. and 240 pounds) are sure to make him a formidable player in the competitive NCAA Div. 1 Big Sky Conference.

During the 2018 season, Bearden was the Sonora High School receptions leader with 18 catches for 239 yards. On the defensive end, he was third in tackles (93), first in sacks (3), and had two interceptions for a total of 74 yards.

Bearden also may have been responsible for one of the most gripping moments of the entire Sonora High School season, when he caught the game-winning touchdown against the Foothill High School Mustangs at Dunlavy Field in the CIF Sac Joaquin Division V quarterfinals.

Bearden said he was looking forward to beginning training with his new team on Aug. 11. He is set to play tight end with the team, but may move around as needed.

“I’m excited to experience the atmosphere and to play with new players,” he said. “I’m excited to finally sign my letter of intent. My family and friends supported me.”

Approximately 50 people, including friends, family, coaches and teammates attended Bearden’s signing ceremony on Dec. 19.

Craig said it was “very uncommon” for a Sonora High School student to earn a scholarship with a D1 football team. The last player to earn that was Killian Rosko, who graduated in 2017 and plays for Sacramento State, and again in 2006.

“Evan is such a great kid,” Craig said. “He deserves it.”

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or . Follow him on Twitter @gsepinsonora.