Fresh off his first season as head football coach for Wadsworth (Ohio) High, Justin Todd looked to establish a relationship with the younger prospects in his program.
So Todd threw the football with them one day after a workout session. The zip of the passes from then-rising freshman Mitchell Evans caught Todd’s attention. That Evans decided to quit football didn’t sit right with Todd.
“So it was at that point that I told Mitch, ‘You are going to be a quarterback for us,’” Todd said.
Convincing Evans to continue playing paid off for Todd. He considers Evans to be the best to ever play for him. Evans now holds scholarship offers from Notre Dame, Florida State, Michigan State and Louisville, among others. He’s evaluated as a tight end who could grow into a left tackle.
The erratic growth spurt Evans experienced and his versatile skill set may make him one of the more unusual three-star recruits in the 2021 class.
As a 5-foot-10 freshman, Evans said he heard from a doctor that he would top out at 6-4. He surpassed that so much that he started experiencing back pains last year. Now at 6-7, 240 pounds, Evans said he could grow a couple more inches.
The positions Evans played in the meantime give him flexibility at the next level. Todd said Evans could have become a Division I quarterback, left tackle, tight end or punter had he solely focused on one of those positions.
“The kid can pretty much do anything. He’s a very special athlete,” Todd said.
Notre Dame prefers Evans at tight end like a majority of schools. Evans said he wants to play tight end in college but would consider moving to left tackle. He included ND in his top 10 school list last Saturday, along with Michigan State, Virginia, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Georgia Tech, Iowa State, Florida State, Cincinnati and Indiana.
Only until this spring did those schools begin to heavily pursue Evans. Growing pains and a back injury from lifting weights prevented Evans from showing his skills at recruiting camps last offseason. He even started his junior season limited in the first few games. But playing more tight end ultimately paid dividends.
Evans will start at quarterback as a senior, Todd said. What he showed in glimpses at tight end in 2019 helped him accrue his first Division I offer from Akron in February, along with the 24 others that followed. He’s now the No. 19 tight end and No. 479 overall player this cycle, per 247Sports. Rivals ranks him No. 28 at the same position.
Barring a change, the Irish are positioned as the favorite to secure Evans’ verbal commitment within the next couple months. However, Ohio State offering Evans could alter his recruitment.
“If I go there and do what I’m supposed to do,” Evans said, “I have a good shot at the NFL. I always wanted to do that. If I go there, I’ll have a good chance of doing that because they will develop me in a way that I need to be. And let’s say football doesn’t work out. My degree from Notre Dame is elite. I’ll have a very good job when coming out of college with a Notre Dame degree.”
Landing Evans may help bring Notre Dame much-needed recruiting momentum. Fridley (Minn.) Totino-Grace offensive tackle Joe Alt pledging to the Irish on Monday ended a significant drought. Since Oct. 14, only one offensive recruit had committed to Notre Dame: three-star offensive lineman Pat Coogan.
Losing on key targets and four-star wide receiver Deion Colzie decommitting in March plunged Notre Dame’s class that once held top-ranked status. Rivals pegs the 12-member Irish class No. 14 nationally, while 247Sports ranks it No. 20.
Tight end looks to be one of Notre Dame’s most solid positions. The Irish added five-star Michael Mayer and four-star Kevin Bauman to their 2020 class to go with the experience of Brock Wright and Tommy Tremble. Hartwell (Ga.) Hart County tight end Cane Berrong remains committed to Notre Dame’s 2021 class.
So the Irish should have enough time to mold Evans if his body continues to grow or should his rawer skills require ample time for development.
“Obviously No. 1, his size. He’s got really soft hands and incredible size,” said Todd on Evans’ top attributes. “When you look at what he’s able to do with the football after the catch, I think that’s impressive to colleges. They were able to see him from his highlight tape. When we put it together, we had some in-line, h-back, flexed and split clips.”
New tight ends coach John McNulty started showing interest the same month (March) his hiring became official, Evans said. Led by McNulty, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and recruiting/special teams coordinator Brian Polian, Notre Dame’s coaching staff started pursuing Evans more a couple weeks ago.
Two Zoom video conference meetings, the last of which came on Tuesday, helped convince Evans that he wants to visit South Bend for the first time. Evans said he plans to take informal trips to Notre Dame and Michigan State in a couple weeks.
With the dead period extended through Aug. 31, recruits are prohibited from taking formal trips to college campuses. Recruits are still permitted to visit schools by themselves, though.
“If I’m not ready to make a decision, I’m not going to make one obviously,” Evans said. “But I want to make one before the season. That’s my goal. Even before quarantine, I wanted to do that so I could focus on my senior season.
“But if (the NCAA) announces at the end of July, ‘Hey, we are going to allow official visits once August ends,’ then I would push my decision back a little bit and take official visits.”