Mitchell Evans Ready to Emerge on the National Stage for Notre Dame

With Michael Mayer departed to the NFL, tight end Mitchell Evans is ready to emerge on the national stage when Notre Dame takes on Navy.

For the past three seasons, a tight end has led the Notre Dame offense in receptions. That tight end cast a 6’4 1/2″, 265-pound shadow that others in the room toiled in the darkness behind, waiting for their opportunity to shine.

As Marcus Freeman’s team heads to Ireland to open the 2023 college football season, junior tight end Mitchell Evans is set to emerge into the spotlight.

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Mitchell Evans Ready to Emerge on the National Stage for Notre Dame

One question has dogged Notre Dame throughout offseason practices, scrimmages, and camps: How do you replace the game-changing production of Michael Mayer? The now-Las Vegas Raiders tight end has been the dominant force for the Fighting Irish offense for the past three seasons, and his departure leaves a 67-reception, 809-yard, nine-touchdown hole to fill.

The answer became apparent with the release of the first official Notre Dame depth chart of the 2023 college football season. In the place where #81 used to reside was instead #88. Evans was named the starting tight end by coach Freeman ahead of the trip to Dublin to face Navy. This result came from impressing his coaches and separating himself from the rest of the pack.

However, that answer might have been apparent as far back as Dec. 31 and the Fighting Irish’s Gator Bowl win over South Carolina. With Mayer opting to sit out and focus on the 2023 NFL Draft, Evans assumed the role that would come to be his own in the 2023 college football season.

The result? Three receptions, 39 receiving yards, and a game-winning touchdown that made the score 45-38 in favor of Notre Dame with just 1:38 left on the clock. Prior to that game, Evans had tallied just two receptions in his entire career, gaining 21 yards in his freshman campaign and securing zero receptions as a sophomore before lining up against South Carolina.

The tight end position is a guts-or-glory role. There’s rarely anything in-between. Highly productive pass catchers at the position are glorified and lauded; think Kyle Pitts and Dalton Kincaid in recent draft classes. Others toil away in the shadows, waiting for their opportunity in the spotlight while sharpening their craft as a blocker.

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For the past two seasons, that has been Evans. He arrived at Notre Dame in 2021 to a locker room that already had its star pass-catching tight end in Mayer, the latest in a long line of standouts at the position that has included Cole Kmet, Tyler Eifert, and Kyle Rudolph. Squint a little, and Chase Claypool is built more like a tight end than a traditional wide receiver.

To earn his moment in the spotlight, Evans spent his first two seasons predominantly as a blocker. As a true freshman, he played in all 13 games but saw just two receptions. After missing the start of the 2022 season due to injury, he played in six games without seeing a sniff of a reception before he got his opportunity to start in the Gator Bowl.

However, he was able to showcase his athletic talent several times during the 2022 campaign, utilizing a unique skill set in a package that would come to be known as “Mitch-a-palooza.” In his first career start against UNLV, he gained a first down on a third-and-one carry before finding the end zone on a goal-line QB sneak. He’d pick up yardage on five more carries in 2022.

It’s a skill set that harks back to his high school career at Wadsworth in Ohio. While he was the 21st-ranked tight end nationally by 247 Sports and a three-star recruit in the 2021 class, Evans wasn’t your traditional tight end prospect prior to his arrival in South Bend.

Sure, he caught 19 passes for 306 yards, turning over a third of his catches into touchdowns as a high school junior in 2019. Sure, he had 26 DI offers to play tight end, including Pittsburgh, FSU, Michigan State, and Iowa State. Sure, he committed to Notre Dame due to their ability to maximize and develop talent at the position, telling the Beacon Journal:

“I didn’t want to go to a school that didn’t utilize my position in a way that wouldn’t make me successful. They’re literally ‘Tight End U.’ They use their tight ends there. I know for a fact they’ll make me successful.”

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But in 2020, Evans wasn’t the tight end for the Wadsworth High School football program. In 2020, he was playing punter and quarterback, excelling at both. Earning first-team All-State honors, he threw for 2,132 passing yards and 23 touchdowns during his final high school season.

When you see him get under center and sneak forward to pick up a first down or score in a short-yardage situation, it’s coming from a place of experience. That history with the QB position has revealed itself in practice this offseason too. After shaking off the attentions of Xavier Watts to snag a pass from Sam Hartman, he rolls to the sideline, cocks his arm, and fires the ball across the field.

Notre Dame has been able to utilize Evans’ size and unique athletic profile—watch him run away from defenders for a 74-yard touchdown in a high school game against Hudson—as a blocker and in the “Mitch-a-palooza” package. However, the junior talent didn’t come to South Bend to become a novelty piece for the offense or to keep defensive ends at bay.

He came to be the next successful tight end, the next Eifert, Rudolph, or Kmet, and on Dec. 31, he showcased what to expect from his junior season as the number one tight end and a legitimate pass-catching option for the Fighting Irish.

As Notre Dame prepares to take on their longest-running rival at Aviva Stadium, Evans is primed to take over from another great Fighting Irish tight end.

He might not be the next Mayer, but Evans is ready to emerge from his shadow.