UM freshman RB Chris Evans gets chance and runs with it

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — There was a period of self-doubt for running back Chris Evans.

Part of Michigan’s 2016 recruiting class, Evans was overshadowed by highly-touted recruits like Rashan Gary, Ben Bredeson, Brandon Peters, Michael Onwenu and Kareem Walker, and entered camp wondering if he’d play.

Evans eventually convinced himself he’d be able to contribute as a true freshman, contrary to what media outlets were saying.

“All throughout the summer I was just telling myself I can do it,” Evans said. “I can do it even though all the web sites were saying I’ll be getting redshirted.”

Evans used it as fuel and went as far as to make it a daily reminder, posting the stories about him on his ceiling.

“The articles saying Chris Evans redshirted ... and all the big names are going to play, big names are going to do this, big names are going to do that, I just lived off that,” Evans said.

Evans wasted no time making a big splash in the opener against Hawaii, rushing for 112 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries.

Even though he became the third freshman in program history to eclipse 100 yards rushing in his debut, Evans didn’t feel like it was his best performance.

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“I feel like week in and week out, I try to listen to what the coaches are saying and just try to work harder than I worked last week to be able to perform better,” Evans said. “I feel like I’m being able to break down the runs and break down the protection good enough to where the next time I run that same play that we ran last week I can try to bust it open more.”

Since Week 1, Evans’ touches and production has fluctuated. He rushed for a season-high 153 yards on 11 carries against Rutgers and followed that up with one carry against Illinois and a mere eight yards rushing against Michigan State.

In last week’s 14-13 loss at Iowa, Evans led Michigan with 52 yards on eight carries, with five attempts coming during a pair of scoring drives.

Still, he felt he could’ve done more.

“I feel like throughout the whole time offensive coordinator (Tim Drevno) was trying to figure out what plays could we blow, hit a seam and just go,” Evans said. “I would get through the gap but I was getting down on myself because I feel like the offense, we really need a big play and I feel like I didn’t do that for us.”

There’s no denying what Evans has been able to do. Through 10 games, he ranks second on the team with 508 yards, trailing senior starter De’Veon Smith (592 yards), and has three touchdowns.

Evans also leads all Michigan running backs with a 7.8 yards-per-carry average, has six receptions for 87 yards, and contributed on special teams with a 15-yard punt return and 26-yard kick return.

“(He’s more advanced) than the average freshman football player,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “He’s got real knack, instincts, very good, very good learner. Makes that a priority. That’s a real positive with him. It’s been plus-plus-plus with Chris.”

But the biggest plus has been Evans proving himself right.

“I feel like I still got work to do,” he said, “but I feel like my name is bigger than when I got here.”