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FOOTBALL: Evan Sharpley – The consummate teammate

Chris Hine | Friday, October 5, 2007

Reporters crowded around junior quarterback Evan Sharpley as he entered the Guglielmino Athletic Complex auditorium Tuesday. Despite Sharpley’s 208-yard, two-touchdown performance in the second half of Notre Dame’s 33-19 loss to Purdue, coach Charlie Weis said if freshman Jimmy Clausen is healthy, Clausen will get the start.

Quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus said Tuesday – and Weis reiterated Wednesday -Clausen looked fine in practice and probably will start Saturday against UCLA, relegating Sharpley to play backup for at least another week.

Sharpley was already the backup for two years behind Brady Quinn. Now he is the backup to a freshman. But even though Clausen started the last four games, Sharpley didn’t criticize his coaches. He didn’t complain. He said all the things a true team player would say.

“I think there’s always going to be disappointment when you’re not named the starter, but at the same time I realize what our goal is,” Sharpley said Tuesday. “If the coaches think those guys are giving us the best chance to win then that’s what I have to respect and do the best that I can to help the team anyway.”

Before Clausen’s first start against Penn State, Weis said Clausen was the No. 1 quarterback coming out of the four-man competition that dominated spring practice.

“I think what we felt, at the end of spring, we took every throw by every player, and running the operation and everything we do, as we evaluated as a staff, the nudge would have gone to [Clausen] at that time,” Weis said.

Reporters asked Sharpley if he was upset because he feels he should be the starter. After all, half of the quarterback candidates from spring practice are gone – Zach Frazer transferred to Connecticut over the summer, and Demetrius Jones transferred to Cincinnati this fall in part because of Weis’ comments before the Penn State game.

But Sharpley still said all the right things.

“I respect their decision and the way they feel and whatever decision they make is the one we have to go with,” he said. “I’m not going to complain, I’m just going to keep working hard.”

Hulkow’s disappointment

Rich Hulkow, Sharpley’s coach at Marshall High School in Marshall, Mich., said he isn’t surprised his former player is handling himself well.

“Well that’s it, he’s got great character. He is a great kid, works hard, is responsible, very coachable, does what the coaches ask of him,” Hulkow said. “If [their decision] isn’t something he likes, he’s going to do what’s best for the team.”

Sharpley threw for 1,389 yards and 16 touchdowns in his senior season at Marshall. He also had four interceptions while playing free safety. The Detroit Free-Press named him Division IV all-state quarterback for his senior campaign, in which he led Marshall to the state playoffs.

Sharpley was also named to the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches “Dream Team” twice and earned three varsity letters in basketball. Sharpley continued his baseball career at Notre Dame, along with his brother Ryan. In 2007, Sharpley saw action in 14 games for the Irish baseball team.

Hulkow said Sharpley’s work ethic allows him to succeed at whatever sport he plays.

“You know he used to always work in the middle of basketball season,” Hulkow said. “He led our team in three-point shots and then every Sunday we’d go in the gym and he’d throw with six or seven receivers and from there he’d go with his dad to the batting cages and get his swings. That was a Sunday for him. And that’s playing in the middle of basketball season. He’s a consummate three-sport athlete.”

Sharpley came to Notre Dame after Weis was hired in December 2004 and threw two passes in relief of Quinn last season. Sharpley saw time in Notre Dame’s season opener against Georgia Tech and completed 10-of-13 passes for 92 yards in the 33-3 loss. Three weeks later, in Notre Dame’s 31-14 loss to Michigan State, he completed 4-of-7 for 33 yards. He had his breakout game against the Boilermakers last Saturday after replacing an injured Clausen.

Still, for Sharpley, the game was “bittersweet.” He threw his first career touchdown pass but said he would be happier if Notre Dame won the game.

“It was just an opportunity to come in and help our team win,” Sharpley said. “And unfortunately that didn’t happen and I take a lot of the blame for that, that we didn’t come back. We were pretty close, had an opportunity and let it get away.”

Hulkow thought Sharpley played well in the loss.

“He looked poised. I thought the team responded really well also. They had a bit of a spark out there,” Hulkow said. “… He’s got a great arm. He’s had one since high school and the days he was a baseball pitcher, so it didn’t surprise me. He’s got a great arm and that’s why he’s at Notre Dame.”

Sharpley said he and Hulkow developed a good relationship while Sharpley was at Marshall.

But while Sharpley is reluctant to voice disappointment with the quarterback situation, his old coach is not.

“From what I understand is, I don’t know how well it was handled in terms of Jones being a starter and then hearing there wasn’t any competition at all,” Hulkow said.

Before the season began, Weis did not publicly announce who the starting quarterback would be, but Hulkow said he would have handled things differently.

“Well you know it’s disappointing that people aren’t up front with their athletes. You know, I wouldn’t do that with my high school kids and try to play mind games with them,” Hulkow said. “I think everybody operates better from a point of honesty and say, ‘You know when Jimmy Clausen comes back, he’s going to be the guy,’ and let people work from there instead of building false hope.”

Hulkow said he is proud of how Sharpley is accepting his role.

“I think he’s handled it with class a lot more so than the way it’s been handled,” Hulkow said. “It’d be easy for a 20-year-old to pull a Demetrius Jones and say, ‘You know what, I’m going to pack my tent and leave.’ I think he has more character than the situation that’s been around him.”

Backing up

Sharpley said he is disappointed he is not the starter, but that does not change the way he gets himself ready each week. While Sharpley does not take the same amount of snaps in practice that Clausen does, he still has to concentrate on taking “mental reps” and following along in practice, even if he is not in the play.

“It’s basically the same as being on the field except you’re visualizing it,” Sharpley said. “You say the play to yourself and you go through your read or if it’s a run play, whether or not you need to motion someone to block. … There’s a lot of things that go into it just mentally to keep yourself sharp.”

Against Purdue, Sharpley threw the deep ball to freshman wide out Golden Tate and found other receivers open underneath. Despite the limited amount of reps he gets in practice, he said, he has a good rapport with his receivers.

“I have a good relationship with a lot of the receivers and we’re here through the summer throwing a lot, and I stay after and throw with several of them each day to kind of build the timing and just get a few extra throws from myself,” Sharpley said.

Sharpley said he is always ready to take over the reins at quarterback and that the most important thing is not how much time he gets, but rather winning a game. It may be hard to accept the backup role now that Quinn is gone, but if that’s what he has to do, he will do it.

“I think it is difficult,” Sharpley said. “But at the same time, we’re here to win football games and I’m not going to take frustration out on anybody. I want to win just as much as the next guy does, and that’s really what we’re here for.”