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'Trust the process': Michigan's Chris Evans remains a study of perseverance

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

While his Michigan teammates played last season, Chris Evans worked three jobs.

While his roommates, Josh Uche and Khaleke Hudson built their NFL Draft resumes, Evans was either mudding drywall, coaching special teams at Ann Arbor Huron High or washing dishes at Ahmo’s restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor during the weekends when he wasn’t making food deliveries.

Evans, expected to be the lead running back for the Wolverines last season, was suspended a year by the university for an academic issue, the specifics of which he has never divulged.

Michigan running back Chris Evans

He remained in Ann Arbor, no longer on scholarship, no longer allowed access to the football building and when he should have been playing for first-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, Evans would instead catch his team play on television when he’d have a break at Ahmo’s. In the mornings until noon he worked as a carpenter, during the weekday afternoons he was at Huron, and he worked at Ahmo’s over the weekends.

More:'He's loyal': Running back Chris Evans' return gains the admiration of former Michigan teammates

But he never left Ann Arbor, even though he had no guarantees U-M would reinstate him.

“I never thought of going anywhere else,” said Evans, reinstated last November. “I didn’t 100 percent know I was coming back to Michigan, so that went through my head once or twice. Michigan is ‘those who stay will be champions,’ and I just stuck to that. That’s what I did.”

His work ethic has impressed his teammates.

“He has his mind on straight,” safety Brad Hawkins said Friday. “We all know he’s a great guy, we all know he’s a great football player. Just the mental toughness that he had being away from the team for a year and mentally getting his mind right, mentally doing the things he had to do and coming back this year, being the leader, stepping up and doing the right thing helping the guys. That says a lot about him as a person, the character that he has. He’s definitely a great guy, definitely somebody I look up to.”

Evans said he would have handled any setback this way, putting his head down and going to work. But he admitted there were times, mentally, when the situation was challenging.

“Mentally, it was tough not knowing if you ever were going to be able to play football again at Michigan,” Evans said. “That was the big question as I got closer to the end of the school year in November. And then I got the good news. I pretty much went the whole year without 100 percent knowing if I was coming back or not. It wasn’t my choice. It was coach (Jim) Harbaugh’s and the school letting me back in and (whether) I was going to be back on scholarship. That question was the biggest one. I was sticking to what I knew and was grinding the whole time.”

Michigan running back Chris Evans is tackled before crossing the goal line in the fourth quarter against Ohio State on Nov. 24, 2018.

After he was reinstated last November, Evans joined the team for a few bowl practices in December and began working with strength coach Ben Herbert.

“I quit my job instantly, put my two-week in and just hit the ground running,” Evans said.

The 5-foot-11, 216-pound Evans has a new jersey number and a renewed focus on his college career with one year remaining. It’s unclear when that season will start, but when it does, Evans will be wearing No. 9, not No. 12 as he did earlier in his Michigan career.

He has rejoined a running back room that features top returning backs Zach Charbonnet and Hassan Haskins. In three seasons, Evans rushed for 1,722 yards and 304 carries and scored 14 touchdowns. He also caught 40 passes for 392 yards and two touchdowns. Evans, All-Big Ten honorable mention in 2017, was projected to be the Wolverines’ top back heading into last season after the Peach Bowl following the 2018 season.

Evans doesn’t know what his role will be in Gattis’ offense, but running backs coach Jay Harbaugh back in late May said he was impressed how quickly Evans learned the new system.

“Chris is really into the details of the game,” Harbaugh said at the time. “He's into learning the bigger picture — what are the linemen doing? What's the defense trying to do? What do we call this? He's always asking me extra questions. I think his personality and his passion for learning has really suited him well during this time. He's able to say, ‘Oh, this play, we used to call this blank, whatever,’ so he can equate things very simply. Sometimes he won't get something and then he'll be like oh this is like what we did against Florida State. And I'm like 'Man, you were a freshman then.' It's pretty impressive how he is able to do that.”

Michigan is not currently playing football after the Big Ten announced Aug. 11 the season is postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps it will get started sometime this fall, or maybe even in early January.

Evans has waited so long to get back on the field but is unfazed.

“Life is all about patience,” he said. “You’ve got to be patient and things will come to you. Just working it out, grinding, and if you keep working hard and trust in the process, everything will come to you.”

He has appeared on some NFL Draft analyst projections, but Evans said his goal has been to play another season at Michigan.

“I haven’t really looked into that (NFL) stuff,” Evans said. “All that stuff is what somebody thinks. It comes down to what the NFL scouts think of you. I am 100 percent focused on playing football and whatever else comes, I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.”

Twitter: @chengelis