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Football: Instant Impact

Sam Werner | Thursday, October 8, 2009

Heading into this season, there were plenty of positions where Notre Dame was going to have to rely on younger players to step up. But wide receiver? With Michael Floyd and Golden Tate, that position seemed locked down.

Well, one broken clavicle thrust freshman Shaquelle Evans into the spotlight as a player the Irish would rely on in 2009.

“You can anticipate seeing [Evans] a heck of a lot more,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said after Floyd’s injury.

Evans said he found out about Floyd’s injury in a team meeting and, after the initial shock of how serious the injury was, he knew what it meant for him.

“I knew it was time for me to step up,” he said. “And that’s what I’ve been trying to do the last couple of games.”

After no catches against Nevada in the season opener, Evans had two for 15 yards against Michigan, and one for 12 yards against Purdue, before breaking out against Washington with career highs of four catches for 34 yards.

“The first play I got in the Nevada game, I was kind of shaking,” Evans said. “But the last couple of games I’ve gone out there confident, relaxed. When you relax it’s easier.”

In addition to calming down, Evans said the increased playing time has also helped his development.

“The last couple of games, I’ve been getting more and more reps, so I’m picking it up even better,” Evans said.

Despite the fact that Floyd isn’t able to help on the field, Evans said that he has almost become like a coach to him.

“Even though he’s been injured, he’s been helping me a lot,” Evans said. “Just picking me up when I’m down, helping me line up, and run crisp routes.”

Weis said multiple times that after Floyd was lost for the season, it would take more than just one receiver to take his place. Senior Robby Parris, junior Duval Kamara, sophomores Deion Walker and John Goodman, as well as Evans, would all have to step up their games. Each receiver brings something different to the table.

“I just feel like I open up the offense more with my speed,” Evans said.

Unfortunately, one of the most memorable plays involving Evans so far this season was one he didn’t make, missing a third down pass on an out route from junior quarterback Jimmy Clausen late against Michigan. It looked like Evans didn’t get his head around in time to look for the ball, and a catch likely would have sealed an Irish win.

Evans, though, said that he took the mistake as a learning experience.

“We don’t like to blame it on anybody,” he said. “But as a freshman I learned that on third down in a crucial game like that, you’ve just got to break the route off a little early, especially when they have all those people in the box.”

He added that, since then, he has been breaking his routes of early on third down, as evidenced by a couple of key catches against Washington.

While every Notre Dame player undoubtedly wants to beat USC next week, Evans has a motivation beyond simply school pride. A native of Inglewood, Calif., he had originally committed to the Trojans before switching to Notre Dame after his official visit to South Bend. Even though he almost ended up on the other sidelines, Evans said there’s no love lost for Pete Carroll’s squad.

“It’s the hometown team, and I just want to beat them,” Evans said. “I want to beat USC.”