'Keep pushing': Suspended Michigan RB Chris Evans finds himself on outside looking in

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Southfield — These days, Chris Evans is driving restaurant deliveries around Ann Arbor. No longer enrolled at Michigan, no longer on scholarship and unable to participate in spring practice with his teammates, Evans never considered the easy way out, going home to Indianapolis and waiting to find out what’s next.

“It's not like I won't ever be able to play again, I'm just playing the waiting game," says Michigan running back Chris Evans, who was suspended by the university in early February.

Instead, he is earning a salary and tips working for Ahmo’s, he’s taking online courses and working out in the evenings at Xplosive Performance Academy in Southfield under the tutelage of facility owner John Vickers, who has trained a number of local and professional athletes.

Evans, who would have been the top returning running back for the Wolverines, was suspended by the University of Michigan in early February. 

He won’t share specifics, but stresses it’s not an issue with his grades.

“It’s an academic mistake,” Evans said recently after a training session at Xplosive. “Not my grades. I’m on pace to graduate.”

He was expected to be the leader in the running backs room this spring and into the season as a senior now that Karan Higdon has exhausted his eligibility. A return before the fall, however, remains a possibility. Evans filed an eight-page, double-spaced essay Wednesday to appeal his suspension.

“It’s about why I should be back and how this is not going to happen again,” Evans said.

His appeal will go before a committee board of four students and four faculty. The University is expected to reply in two weeks. Evans could be allowed to return to school in May if the suspension is cut to half a year, or he will have to wait for reinstatement next January. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh last week confirmed Evans could work his way back to the team.

Evans is accepting of his fate.

Chris Evans carried for 423 yards and four touchdowns in 11 games
last season, averaging 5.2 yards per carry.

“What would I do?” Evans said, when asked if the university does not shorten the suspension. “Keep doing what I’m doing. As soon as I get back, I’m ready. It’s not like I won’t ever be able to play again, I’m just playing the waiting game.”

But that’s just it. He’s not waiting. Waiting, to Evans, would be a sign of quitting, and that’s not part of his DNA.

“It’s hard, but in my case a lot of people don’t have the mental ability to withstand what I’m going through right now,” he said. “My parents countless times told me, ‘Just come home and you can figure it out.’ I wanted to stay up here, make sure I got a job, just to show them I’m serious about it. I just want to finish what I started. I’m big on loyalty, especially like just through the whole process of me committing to Michigan and then getting offered by Ohio State late, I’m just keeping the commitment to them. And just showing my commitment still. Loyalty is the first thing.”

Evans, who has been coaching basketball and local seven-on-seven football teams the last few years, said he plans to share his experiences with younger athletes so they avoid missteps like his. He has always embraced being a role model and wants teammates and the young kids he works with to understand mistakes are made from which one can learn.

“At this point, it’s in God’s hands,” Evans said. “Just making sure I stay prayed up, stay positive, just try to make sure people don’t go down the same road. When I get back, I’m going to make sure that people don’t do the same thing. Mishaps. It’s nothing about the grades, because a lot of people think it’s about the grades. A lot of people can say a lot of different things, but it’s just an error that I had. I’ve got to make it so it doesn’t happen to anybody else.”

Keeping in touch

His roommates, Michigan football players, Josh Uche, Khaleke Hudson and Nick Eubanks, come home and share with Evans updates from spring practice that began just more than a week ago. He knows he’s missing vital time with a new offensive coordinator, Josh Gattis, installing a new uptempo, no-huddle offense, but he downloads the offensive plays from Eubanks, a tight end, each day and studies. Evans has stayed in touch with the coaching staff, keeping them updated on his appeal process, and said Harbaugh has been supportive.

“I make sure I get the installs from them and pick their brain about their practice and trying to watch as much film as I can,” Evans said.

After taking online cases all morning to remain academically eligible, Evans heads to his job delivering restaurant orders.

“Drive around all day, dropping deliveries off to people. It’s just humbling,” Evans said. “I’m just trying to stay focused. I’m delivering stuff on campus, as well, so I’m driving past, seeing everybody, some of my teammates walking down the street. I’ve got a delivery thing on top of my car. I keep it on my car even when I’m not doing anything, just to make sure I’m humbling myself, like you don’t want to put yourself back in this position.”

Often, he’s recognized while making deliveries.

“Yeah, a lot,” he said. “It be like, ‘Are you Chris Evans?’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah,’ and they say, ‘Keep pushing, man. Keep doing your thing.’ And I’m like, ‘That’s what I’m here for.’ Some people like to talk and ask what’s going on and I tell them academic issues I’m going to handle.

“It’s all a reminder. I go to sleep after I go home. It’s like I’m working 9 to 5. Like, I really do. It’s starting to get repetitive, but I remind myself, ‘You put yourself in this position.’”

Once work is over, Evans makes the 45-minute-to-hour-long drive, usually in high-peak traffic, to Xplosive Performance Academy, which Vickers opened at the end of 2016. It is high-energy, organized chaos with three batting cages and weights to one side, and to the other, multiple athletes, younger and older, working with trainers, always staying out of the way of each other. 

It is a beehive of non-stop activity, and if you eavesdrop on the different groups, there’s a heavy emphasis on learning the small details of whatever sport they’re working on.

Evans is following a workout and nutrition plan constructed by Vickers.

“I feel like I’m in good shape,” Evans said. “Vickers has a plan for me. I trust in his plan. He works out dozens of guys. It comes down to explosion, and that’s my forte, especially as a running back.”

Evans will train with different trainers at Xplosive who teach him different techniques. Adrian Bazemore, who was a track athlete at Michigan State (2000-05), has worked with a number of U.S track athletes and went over several running-specific technique drills with Evans last Thursday night. Evans ran track for Ben Davis in Indianapolis for four years and was a member of state champion relay teams, so for Bazemore, it was like instructing a track athlete. He had Evans working mostly at 70- to 80-percent speed, but was zeroed in on teaching him small movements that make a difference in terms of acceleration and burst.

“This dude is like a Porsche,” Bazemore yelled at one point to Vickers as Evans sprinted.

Unlikely alliance

Despite Evans wearing his Michigan-issued apparel, and Bazemore in a Michigan State shirt and hat, the two worked well together. Still, Bazemore said the rivalry runs deep.

“It’s against my religion, but Chris is such a cool dude, and John is my boy, and ultimately, the goal is the NFL, and he’s got it,” Bazemore said, laughing. “Aside from the rivalry, he showed me some stuff.”

Evans followed the instruction and showed Bazemore his speed. He told Bazemore he’s been clocked at 4.5 in the 40, but the coach balked.

“That kid is not a 4.5,” he said. “Eye test, 4.43, 4.4 flat. Easily.”

Bazemore repeatedly told him during their training session to remain in “drive phase.” 

Evans has embraced that concept.

“I’m going to keep my head down and keep on pushing,” he said, not long after putting on the Harbaugh-issued blue-collar worker’s jacket each Michigan player has received. “Stay in drive phase and just keep pushing. I could go home (to Indianapolis), just chill out and make sure my family is good, take online classes, work out at home, don’t have to pay for rent. But I was like, I want to stay in the mix if I got the chance.

“I’ve got too much riding on this, especially my family, my mom, my dad, my little brothers, the kids I mentor and coach. If I was to quit, how am I going to tell them? I’m trying to keep my head on straight. 

“I put my head down, stay in drive phase, pump my arms, pump my legs until I figure out what’s going on.”