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Notre Dame Football

TE Mitchell Evans Focused on Leading Notre Dame Offense

April 8, 2024
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Notre Dame tight end Mitchell Evans is well on his way back from an ACL injury last fall, but it also means he’s not participating in football practice this spring. 

The 6-foot-5, 260-pounder is focused on rehab, which is going well, but as of now, there isn’t a timetable for his return to the field. 

“I’m feeling great,” stated Evans. “They’re working me in, doing more each day and taking it week by week. The training staff and strength coaches don’t want to look at the big picture too much yet. We’re taking it each week and I’m getting better and better.” 

And even with ACL recovery becoming more and more routine, slow is good. Evans, unfortunately, can look to his tight room to have all the motivation of not rushing back.

Eli Raridon, Kevin Bauman and former Notre Dame tight end Cane Berrong all suffered a second ACL injury after returning to the field of play

“I haven’t started running yet because we usually do a knee test,” said Evans. “We haven’t done the numbers yet to see when I’m able to run yet. I’m doing a lot of stuff in the weight room.” 

When the Ohio native returns to the field, Evans will likely be a significant piece to the Notre Dame offense. Evans broke out last year with 29 catches for 422 yards and one touchdown in just eight games. 

Some might have been surprised by the big season, but Evans expected it after patiently waiting for his time to be the man. 

“I wasn’t really surprised because I’ve always had that kind of confidence in myself that I could do such things,” explained Evans. “I wasn’t shocked. It’s like the standard of this place, too. We’ve had so many great tight ends. You’ve got to be able to do that when you’re name is called.

“With Mike (Mayer) leaving, someone had to step up and anybody in our room can do that. Once my time is done here, this room will be in great hands.” 

Now, Evans didn’t fully break out until the Ohio State game as he had five catches for 63 yards entering the showdown. 

Evans recorded seven catches for 75 yards against the Buckeyes, and it established momentum for the rest of the season until the injury.

“One, it was Ohio State, but two, I’m from Ohio and they didn’t recruit me,” Evans said. “So I was like, ‘You know what, I hate this team.’ I just was ready to go and then I had a pretty good game. And then I was juiced up for the rest of the season and ready to showcase what I could do and do it consistently.” 

Outside of his rehab, Evans is focused on showing a presence with his leadership in the tight room and within the offense. 

Evans has also taken Cooper Flanagan under his wing as the sophomore looks to expand his role in 2024. 

“Trying to be a better leader because that’s all I can really do,” stated Evans. “I can’t showcase on the field. I’m trying to be a good mentor and leader for Coop because Coop is taking a lot of roles now because we’ve got some guys banged up in the room. I’m trying to mentor him as much as I can and being a good leader.

“From a team aspect, we had a lot of guys leave like Joe (Alt), Audric (Estime), Sam (Hartman). Just being in more of a leadership role for the entire team and being a guy the younger guys can look up to, even the receivers and the running backs or the younger linemen learning how to do protections. Just trying to be a better leader for the whole team.” 

Flanagan has embraced soaking up tips from Evans and Bauman this spring, even if they sometimes get on his nerves. 

“It’s kind of a blessing being able to get reps and having them in my ear, which can kind of be annoying at times,” laughed Flanagan. “It’s been great and I’m super lucky to have them.” 

The other adjustment for Evans in the present is learning Mike Denbrock’s offense without taking reps. 

Learning the terminology and checks is important for Evans to hit the ground running when he returns, but also to help coach up his teammates in practice. 

“I like him,” explained Evans. “He brings a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge. He came in and kind of did a whirlwind on everything, so the terminology is a lot different. It was a lot at first, but now that we’ve been playing, it’s pretty much mastered at this point.

“A lot of mistakes with the old terminology was kind of affecting it. But now guys are getting used to the offense that he calls.” 

Denbrock will run more 11 personnel, which means fewer tight ends, but Evans isn’t bothered by it. 

“I’ll play whatever our best personnel is, whether that’s 11, 21, 22 or 14, whatever our best personnel is,” Evans said. “We’ll play that the most because that’s what we’ve got to do to win games.

“We’re going to have a lot of guys that if we have to go 12 or have to go 13, everyone will be ready even though we haven’t practiced it as much because guys will be ready to step up because we’re accustomed to that.”

The positive attitude around The Gug and the practice field is something Denbrock has noticed and appreciated. 

“He’s been great as far as being detailed about learning the things that we’re going ask him to do when he does get back and healthy,” explained Denbrock. “It’s very encouraging. I think he’s a guy that really understands the game.

“We can do a lot of things with a guy that understands the game the way he does. There’s going to be some things we can do with him versatility-wise that I’m excited about. But we gotta get him back healthy first.” 

It’s clear Evans being out this spring hasn’t been fun for Evans, but it’s also evident he’s making the best of it. 

“You have a choice in life and the minute I found out about my knee, I could have been down in the dumps and been really depressed,” said Evans. “Yeah, it sucked in the moment. But I was like, ‘Alright, this isn’t going to set me back. I know what I can do.’ I’m just going to go out there and do it again next year but it’s going to take a while to get there.’ It just made me become a better person to work through adversity.” 

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