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Evan Sharpley: Unexpected fifth year pays off for Sharpley

Sam Werner | Friday, November 20, 2009

Usually the players that come back for fifth years at Notre Dame can be predicted well ahead of time. There was one this year though, that came out of left field.

Well, actually first base.

Quarterback Evan Sharpley gave the Irish a boost of unexpected depth at the quarterback position this summer when he announced that he would return for a fifth season. Sharpley, who also plays first on the Irish baseball team, returned to play football after being drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 50th round of the 2009 Major League Baseball draft.

“Initially, it was just to kind of cover my bases, just in case baseball didn’t work out,” Sharpley said of coming back. “I didn’t have the greatest season I’ve ever had with baseball, but I still got drafted.”

Sharpley was drafted 1,593rd overall, which he said caused mixed emotions.

“It was kind of bittersweet,” Sharpley said. “It’s still awesome to get drafted, and I wanted an opportunity. I’m still going to remember those 1,592 guys that got drafted in front of me.”

After being drafted, Sharpley played summer ball in Peoria, Ill. for the Seattle Mariners’ rookie league team.

“I had a great time, had a great summer playing,” he said. “It was really fun.”

After that, it was back to school to complete his education degree and become, in his own words, “the best- looking backup quarterback in college football.”

“Adding depth at the quarterback position was great,” Sharpley said. “And plus I just love playing football and being competitive.”

Even though it was five long years ago, Sharpley said he could still look back and remember his recruitment to Notre Dame in 2004. He said that along with Notre Dame, he was also considering Michigan, Purdue and LSU.

“I wanted to play both sports, and a lot of the places I was looking at they weren’t going to let me do that,” Sharpley said. “A couple that were like, ‘Well, maybe,’ but that’s really what it came down to. I knew I was going to get a great degree. I knew I was going to play baseball, I knew I was going to play football, and compete in both sports.”

Sharpley saw little action backing up Brady Quinn in 2005 and 2006, but finally got his shot in 2007.

The junior saw extensive action both backing up then-freshman Jimmy Clausen and starting games against USC and Navy. The game against the Trojans was Sharpley’s first career Notre Dame start.

He said he had to walk a fine line that season, both teaching Clausen and fighting for playing time himself.

“At the same time you want to see the team you’re playing on and the program you’re in be successful, so whatever I would have to do, I would do,” Sharpley said. “I wasn’t holding anything back. I wanted to see him do well if he was playing, and hopefully likewise if I was playing he wanted me to do well.”

Sharpley said the highlight of his Notre Dame career came earlier in the season, when he relieved Clausen against Purdue.

“My first touchdown pass against Purdue was great, coming in and playing pretty well then,” he said.

On the season, Sharpley finished his junior year with 736 passing yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions.

There was one play in 2007, though, that Sharpley said summed up his up-and-down career at Notre Dame.

“We were playing Boston College,” he said. “And I came in the second half, played pretty well, threw a couple of touchdown passes.”

The play was a fourth-and-one from the Eagles’ 13-yard line with the Irish trailing 27-14. Sharpley said as he was running out on the field, Irish coach Charlie Weis called him back and changed the play.

“We go with a pop pass, and I throw a touchdown pass,” Sharpley said. “It was one of the best feelings ever, then I look over and see a flag on the field. Can I buy a break?”

Irish tackle Mike Turkovich had been called for holding and the Irish couldn’t convert after being pushed back 10 yards. Notre Dame ended up losing 27-14.

Clausen seized the starting job in 2008 and hasn’t looked back. With the addition of Dayne Crist last season, Sharpley has taken on even more of a teaching role for the young quarterbacks.

“I’ve kind of always felt like a teacher or a coach, just with my knowledge that I have,” Sharpley said.

In fact, when Sharpley was running the scout team as third-string quarterback earlier this season, coaches often raved about how he ran the opposing team’s offense better than they did.

“It’s a running joke between coach [Jon] Tenuta and I when I’m running the other team’s offense, it’s, ‘Well, better than this guy again,'” Sharpley said.

Sharpley’s teaching ability, though, stretches far beyond the football field. Currently a student teacher at Adams High School in South Bend, Sharpley is close to finishing his degree in secondary education from Saint Mary’s, in addition to having a history degree from Notre Dame.

“I had to do some twisting and I was on kind of a special program because obviously a football player had never done this before, especially a football/baseball-type guy,” he said. “So it was kind of difficult, but ultimately I wanted to get that done now, so if I wanted to in the future I could be a teacher or coach, which is what I want to do eventually.”

After he saw his first action of the season against Washington State, Sharpley said he was greeted in class on Monday with cries of “Mr. Sharpley, why wouldn’t they let you throw the ball?”

Sharpley said his students have become some of his biggest fans.

“They come in and each week it’s like ‘Can we sign a petition to coach Weis to let you play?'” Sharpley said.

Sharpley teaches five classes at Adams, two senior government classes and three geography classes. He said that an average day starts at 6:30 a.m., with school until 2:30 p.m. and football until 8 p.m. After that, it’s back home to lesson plan or grade papers.

“It’s been a great experience,” Sharpley said. “It’s difficult at times just because I am splitting time with both. Where I would maybe like to do more with a certain subject, I don’t have as much time as the other student teachers to plan those things.”

Being a Division I football player, though, has taught Sharpley some useful skills.

“Being here over the past four years has helped me with time management, knowing whenI can do something, when I need to sleep, when I need to eat,” he said.

Sharpley said his plans after graduation are to try to give pro baseball a shot, but that a teaching degree is a good fallback plan.

“My plans as of now are to go back in the spring for spring training and play great and try and make a name for myself,” he said.

As for his time at Notre Dame, though, Sharpley said it’s about more than just athletics.

“I’ve tried to not just be defined as a football player or as a baseball player,” he said. “I have several different groups of friends outside of football, which I really think is important because you don’t want to get termed as an athlete because there’s kind of a negative connotation with that.”

Looking back, Sharpley said he couldn’t think of anything he would have done differently over the past four years.

“I try not to live like that,” he said. “Started dating my girlfriend earlier, I guess.
“It’s been a fun time so far, and hopefully it finishes up well, too.”