Michigan's role model back Chris Evans skirts sophomore slump

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Michigan running back Chris Evans had to wake up at 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday and was set to wake the same time on Wednesday to make up for missing his training room check-in on Sundays.

But this isn’t a punishment.

Evans sometimes misses check-in because he’s busy coaching young kids in flag football and rec-league basketball. He has an organization called C.E. Stars and coaches flag football teams of 11- to 12-year-olds and another group of 13-year-olds and a basketball team that has kids through fifth grade.

It is a special outlet for Evans, a sophomore, who two weeks ago shared Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors with teammate and fellow running back Karan Higdon after their mammoth performances against Minnesota. Higdon had 200 yards and Evans had 191 rushing yards.

The Wolverines are preparing for an important game at No. 5 Wisconsin on Saturday, and while Evans is focused on that game plan, he’s also in tune with his coaching responsibilities on Sundays.

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“I give them a role model and make sure I’m there for them,” Evans said Tuesday after practice. “They’ve got my number, so they text me and call me. One kid said, ‘I told you Chris is my coach.’ He called me and said ‘Chris, aren’t you my coach?’ in front of all his friends at school and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m your coach, man.’”

Evans, from Indianapolis, has been coaching since he was in high school. He started coaching in Ann Arbor last year after he reached out to a local organization about working with flag football.

“We won the city championship for the flag, so that was a big thing for me and for the kids,” he said.

Evans joked last year after getting a new pair of glasses that they resembled those worn by Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. He said their coaching styles also are similar.

“Yeah, a little bit,” he said. “I’m really intense, but these kids aren’t on scholarship so I don’t expect everything out of them. I just try to be positive throughout the process.”

Last week, he watched kids on his team who had never before played basketball score their first baskets.

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“Just to see their faces, and their parents were going crazy, It was fun to watch,” Evans said.

Coach Evans would really like someday to go into coaching as his profession.

“I want to be a high school coach somewhere and I want to turn the whole program around.” Evans said. “Like go to a little small school and turn the whole program around. That’s what I do on NCAA Football. I’ll go coach New Mexico State and then I’ll win the national championship.”

He likes the idea of building a program.

“Just shows the relationship you build with the kids and the community,” he said. “It really comes down to coaching and developing people. A lot of people just want to coach powerhouses because they’re good. I like the fact of developing people and seeing improvement.”

Evans has been developing this year and has moved beyond early signs of a sophomore slump. He is the Wolverines’ second-leading rusher with 569 yards on 104 carries and has six touchdowns. He also has a receiving touchdown, the first throw by redshirt freshman Brandon Peters, which was fitting, since the two grew up in Indianapolis and played together on youth teams.

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He said he did not know a sophomore slump was even a thing but found out early in the season.

“I’m just like, ‘Man, I’m going through it. I’ve got to make sure I hold up,’” Evans said. “All the running backs and all my teammates made sure I was good. When I fumbled against Air Force, I was like, ‘Oh, man. This is crazy.’ And everybody was like, ‘You’re good, bro, you’re good.’ And I stepped it up kept going.”

Harbaugh said Evans has emerged a better running back.

“There was times I was wondering, ‘Is Chris going to be in a sophomore slump?’ And that didn’t take place,” Harbaugh said this week. “There was a ballgame or two at the beginning and then I think he hit a couple games there where he was just really getting unlucky. The plays weren’t blocked as well and the assignments weren’t on point when he was in the ballgame.

“Then about games seven, eight, nine, it started to even out (between Higdon and Evans). He was getting the turn in there when it was blocked better. I think he is back to even better than he was as a freshman right now. He’s in a great place now. Been extremely valuable to our football team. Like the way he’s running the football. Like the way he’s protecting the ball, like the way he’s catching it out of the backfield, and he’s blocking better too. Right now, Chris has made a good, significant jump. Came out of that freshman year as our top back, and I think he’s back to that place and then some now.”


Twitter: @chengelis


Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis.

TV/radio: Fox/950

Records: Michigan 8-2, 5-2 Big Ten; Wisconsin 10-0, 7-0

Line: Wisconsin by 7