'Mitch-A-Palooza:' How Mitchell Evans carved his post-injury role in Notre Dame's offense

Justin Frommer
South Bend Tribune
Notre Dame tight end Mitchell Evans (88) celebrates scoring during the Notre Dame vs. University of Nevada NCAA football game Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

SOUTH BEND — As Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees exited the upper floor of the Irish Athletics Center Tuesday, he had had a question for Mitchell Evans.

"Have you seen the movie, 'Old School?'"

"I have not," Evans responded with a laugh.

Evans, a sophomore tight end seemed unaware Rees was referencing the 2003 Will Ferrell comedy that sparked the term "Mitch-A-Palooza," now the working title of a unique short-yardage play package he's featured ins.

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Evans, who returned three weeks ago from a foot injury that kept him out since June, has embraced the role that puts his 6-foot-5, 255-pound frame under center rather than at the end of the line.

Four times in the past two games Evans has taken a direct snap for a "tight-end sneak." He has gained 7 yards and scored a touchdown against UNLV.

Evans said during the week leading into the game, Rees texted him a screenshot of the famous "Mitch-A-Palooza" poster from the movie with the tight end's face photoshopped onto it, and no other context given.

Tight ends coach Gerad Parker later spilled the news of Evans' new responsibilities.

"I was like, 'Alright, whatever. I'll do what I need to do to help the team,'" Evans said following Tuesday's practice. "He said we are going to use it on third-and-1, fourth-and-1, whatever we need. We went on to run it twice and it worked that week of UNLV."

Notre Dame tight end Mitchell Evans (88) tries to move past safety Houston Griffith (3) during the Blue-Gold NCAA spring football game on Saturday, May 1, 2021, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)

Rees got the idea for The play design while watching a Sunday night NFL game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys.

"We (wanted) a little more size in there," Rees said. "(Evans) played quarterback once upon a time, so we felt like he could handle it."

Evans said he hadn't taken a snap under center since middle school. As a quarterback at Wadsworth High in Ohio, he ran a spread offense, taking snaps from shotgun. That was the biggest adjustment, Evans said, so he spent extra time practicing with starting center Zeke Correll.

After not dropping a snap during practice, the plays were entered into the playbook.

"I never even knew," Evans said, "that (taking snaps) would be an option."

Notre Dame tight end Mitchell Evans (88) during the Notre Dame Blue-Gold Spring Football game on Saturday, April 23, 2022, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

After playing in 13 games last season as a true freshman, Evans seemed destined for a featured role in 2022 opposite All-American tight end Michael Mayer. But his injury during the summer wiped out participation in fall camp

"That is 30 practices of just getting better at the tight end position," Evans said. "I had to miss that and couple of weeks. Missing Ohio State (in the season opener) was a big game because I am from Ohio. I wanted to play in that game."

Since his return, Evans has increased his snap total each week, playing 13 against the Cardinal, 38 against the Rebels and 45 in last week's 41-24 win against then No. 16 Syracuse.

Evans has yet to catch a pass this season, but feels his pre-injury progression in getting route leverage and reading a defense will turn him into a reliable target.

Until then, Evans is fine running "Mitch-A-Palooza." So far, he's kept it simple. No "Omahas!" Just "set, hike" and plowing forward to the right as he's been told.

With the play now on film multiple times, opposing defense could be expecting it. But it could tempt Notre Dame to run variants, maybe even throw a pass.

"That's up to coach Rees," Evans said. "I just do what he tells me to do."