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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 88 Mitchell Evans, the next starter at ‘TE U’

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl - Notre Dame v South Carolina

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 30: Mitchell Evans #88 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the second half of the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl at TIAA Bank Field on December 30, 2022 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

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Listed measurements: 6-foot-5 ⅛, 260 pounds.
2023-24 year, eligibility: A junior, Evans has two seasons of eligibility remaining.
Depth Chart: Evans will be Notre Dame’s starting tight end when the Irish head to Dublin, a weighty honor as every tight end to open a season as the Irish starter has been drafted since Anthony Fasano started in 2004. If Evans maintains that streak, he will be the 12th straight starting Notre Dame tight end to hear his name in the NFL draft.
Recruiting: The No. 26 tight end in the class of 2021, Evans turned down offers from Iowa State, Michigan State and Pittsburgh to join Cane Berrong in the Notre Dame class of 2021. That sentence elicits two thoughts: First of all, neither Berrong nor Evans was exceedingly well-regarded as a recruit — Berrong the No. 35 tight end in the class, per — but Berrong had a bit more hype given he was an Under Armour All-American. Regardless, the Irish chasing them should have elevated their respective statuses a bit more, simply given Notre Dame’s track record with tight ends under Brian Kelly. After injuries derailed his time in South Bend, Berrong transferred to Coastal Carolina this winter, and he could be a ripe benefactor of Chanticleers quarterback Grayson McCall returning for one more season.

Secondly, that recruiting class could never take an official visit to any campus during their recruitment, making it harder for the prospects to gauge their personal fits as well as harder for coaches to thoroughly evaluate them. Evans looking more and more like a clear success story is that much more impressive from a recruiting perspective.

A toe injury in July of 2022 sidelined Evans to start last season, finding health just as the rest of the Irish tight end reserves seemed to get injured. He did not make an impact down the field, though. Evans’s moments came as a blocker, thanks to his hefty frame, and as a quarterback, surprisingly enough.

Notre Dame first debuted the “Mitch-A-Palooza” package against UNLV, Evans taking two snaps under center and converting a first down with one and scoring a touchdown on the other. By season’s end, he would have five first downs and the touchdown, failing to move the chain only once when taking a snap from center. (An eighth attempt was aborted after a false start penalty before the snap.)

Then when Michael Mayer opted out of the Gator Bowl, Evans became the Irish starter. After Tyler Buchner’s second interception returned for a touchdown tied the game, a bold play designed for Evans resulted in the 16-yard game-winning touchdown with only 1:38 remaining.

2021: 13 games; 2 catches for 21 yards.2022: 8 games, 7 starts; 3 catches for 39 yards and a touchdown with seven rushes for 11 yards and another touchdown.

Want to feel old? When former Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees dubbed the Evans-as-QB package “Mitch-A-Palooza,” the tight end had no idea what Rees was talking about. Apparently “Old School” is no longer a must-watch for high schoolers or young college students.

Rees sent Evans a version of the party poster from early in the 2003 film, and none of the prompt made sense to Evans.

“The Wednesday before, I got a text from coach Rees,” Evans said. “It was a little poster thing, it said, ‘Mitch-A-Palooza.’

“What is he talking about? I had no idea.”

Speaker City may have been a fictional store, but someone in the electronics and live music industry should be able to find a fun way to educate Evans.

Until then, Evans hosting his own football camp will have to do. Back at his high school in Wadsworth, Ohio, putting his own name on a football camp would have been against NCAA rules until name, image and likeness rights were allowed.

Notre Dame tight ends have leaned into the “Tight End U” claim for years now, but the mentality has now taken such hold that Evans can both rattle off the correct specifics of that NFL draft stat and not be perceived as irrational when he argues the moniker should influence the offense.

“We’re Tight End U, so I feel like [tight ends coach and newly-promoted offensive coordinator Gerad Parker] is still going to utilize us,” Evans said this spring. “... I feel like coach Parker will find a way to get us all involved with different sets, different personnel groupings. We’ve done some new stuff here. He’s a big sail guy, as well. Mesh routes, triangle read, snag, all that stuff. It’s a great identity for us to have.

“Every starting tight end since like 2004 has been drafted, so we have to keep that standard of the room high. There’s always that in the back of my head. That’s the standard that is here.”

“Rees will forever enjoy multiple-tight end sets, particularly when the Irish are as thin at receiver as they currently are. Evans will not match Mayer — no tight end outside of Georgia will — but serving as a complementary piece will help aid Notre Dame’s offense in needed ways.

“Some of that will be run blocking, and to some extent, the return of offensive line coach Harry Hiestand should help Evans there. Hiestand will not spend extensive time with the tight ends, but any pointers he offers will aid them. As the Irish likely lean on the run game in 2022, those incremental improvements could prove pivotal.

“That may be Evans’ most valuable contribution in 2022. If he can be as capable a run-blocker as he is a pass-catcher, even if both are only a bit above average rather than excellent, then Rees can stay in two-tight end packages without giving away anything to the opposing defense about his intentions. In that respect, even an 8-catch, 122-yard, 1-touchdown season from Evans would bode well.”

Evans will not reach Mayer’s level. Few ever will.

He probably will not average his Gator Bowl showing, even touchdown aside. A 39-catch, 507-yard season would be astounding.

But Evans will be a key piece of Notre Dame’s offense, though quarterback duties should no longer be part of it. Risking the No. 1 tight end in those moments would be a bit reckless.

The Irish receivers are improved compared to last season, albeit not a terribly high bar to clear. There are still some depth concerns, but between junior Jayden Thomas and sophomore Tobias Merriweather, Notre Dame should have at least two receivers who can get open more consistently than anyone could last season. Senior Chris Tyree, the running back turning into a receiver, could become a third; only time will tell.

If that had been the case last year, Mayer’s gluttonous stats would have been reduced. His 67 catches for 809 yards and nine touchdowns exceeded the next two Irish receiving stat lines combined.

A more balanced offense will help Notre Dame, even if it deprives Evans of catches. A showing in the realm of 25 catches for 400 yards and a handful of touchdowns would portend an even Irish offense, and if he rises above those, the credit likely will belong to quarterback Sam Hartman for directing a more explosive offense than expected.

Those 2023 expectations for Evans were all measured. That is in part because he was a high school quarterback less than three years ago. He has not yet spent enough time at tight end to think he is about to be an outright star.

But there is a flip side to that thought. Evans was a high school quarterback less than three years ago. He has barely scratched the surface at tight end. His ceiling may be much higher than anyone has realized yet.

That has been clear since his first spring practices in 2021, taking more naturally to route running than many longtime collegiate receivers do. As that further develops and Evan finds chemistry with Hartman, becoming a reliable safety valve and a gimmick ball carrier will no longer be the peak for Evans.

Barring injury, those early successes and his obvious size should lead to Evans continuing that draft streak in 2025.

The summer countdown begins anew, Rylie Mills to Deion Colzie
No. 99 Rylie Mills, senior defensive tackle, moving back inside from end
No. 98 Devan Houstan, early-enrolled four-star defensive tackle
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, junior defensive tackle, one of three Irish DTs with notable experience
No. 95 Tyson Ford, sophomore defensive tackle, up 30 pounds from a year ago
No. 93 Armel Mukam, incoming freshman defensive end, former Stanford commit
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a senior defensive tackle now ‘fully healthy’ after a 2022 torn ACL
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, sophomore defensive end, former four-star recruit
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, the next starter at ‘TE U’
No. 87 Cooper Flanagan, incoming freshman tight end, four-star recruit
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, senior tight end coming off a torn ACL
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023
No. 79 Tosh Baker, senior tackle, again a backup but next year ...
No. 78 Pat Coogan, junior interior offensive lineman
No. 77 Ty Chan, sophomore offensive tackle, former four-star recruit
No. 76 Joe Alt, first-team All-American left tackle
No. 74 Billy Schrauth, sophomore left guard, likely starter
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, fifth-year right guard, likely starter
No. 72 Sam Pendelton, early-enrolled freshman offensive lineman
No. 70 Ashton Craig, sophomore interior offensive lineman
No. 68 Michael Carmody, senior offensive lineman
No. 56 Charles Jagusah, incoming freshman offensive lineman, four-star recruit
No. 55 Chris Terek, incoming freshman offensive lineman, four-star recruit
No. 51 Boubacar Traore, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 17 Brenan Vernon, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 13 Holden Staes, sophomore tight end, up 20 pounds in a year
No. 12 Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience
No. 4 Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth

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