Michigan freshman running back Chris Evans broke out immediately. In his first game, he ran for 112 yards and two touchdowns against Hawaii.
Evans prepared years for that moment.
Entering Saturday’s Big Ten opener with Penn State, he leads Michigan with 157 yards rushing while rotating with two seniors, starter De’Veon Smith (152) and Ty Isaac (76).
And before long, No. 12 could be the jersey worn around the Big House on Saturdays.
Recently, Land of 10 took Evans and his high school coach back in time to the beginning of his recruitment, all the way through today.
High school: Ben Davis, Indianapolis
Senior dimensions: 5-foot-11, 186 pounds
Ranking: 4 star, No. 4 in Indiana, No. 335 nationally
Other notable offers: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue, Cincinnati.
The prep work
Message received: “He was blowing my messages up when he was (in) eighth grade,” Ben Davis offensive coordinator Justin Faires said. “He would say, ‘Hey, Coach, can you meet with me on Saturday? Can we work out? What do I need to do to get better?’ … He was like that the entire time at Ben Davis.
“His work ethic is just stupid good. Zero exaggeration in his work ethic, I would put it up with anyone in the entire freshman class in college football in 2016.”
First impression: “He was making plays against 18-year-old seniors as a 14-year old freshman,” Faires said. “We all thought this kid was unbelievable. Then a coach that has been with us for around 30 years said that there’s one player that’s come through here as good as Chris, and that’s Corey Harris (who played 12 seasons in the NFL).”
Always the same: “He’s real grounded,” Faires said. “He’s never too high, he’s never too low. He’s always trying to think of ways to get better. I don’t think he’s going to get caught up in the limelight.”
The pursuit: “It was very humbling,” Evans said of being heavily recruited, “and it made me realize how big of a target you have on your back to either fail or excel.”
The final choice: As a senior, Evans rushed for 1,249 yards and 18 touchdowns on 185 carries and caught 51 passes for 676 yards and 10 TDs. On Feb. 3, he signed his letter of intent, choosing Michigan over Ohio State.
“Coach (Jim) Harbaugh and his legacy in the NFL,” Evans said. “Just how cool he is. He isn’t like a normal head coach. That’s what made (Michigan) better.”
Welcome to Michigan
The Freshman 15: Evans has become stronger since arriving at Michigan, gaining 15 pounds and now weighing 200. He doesn’t want anyone to outwork him.
“I just look at the schedule,” Evans said, “and I think, ‘Well, if Ohio State’s running back is doing this, then what do I need to do, to do extra? … Because if I just do what he does, then I’ll be just like him. If I do extra, then I’ll have an advantage over him.’ And it’s a confidence booster. If you know you put the work in, then it’s all going to fall into place.”
Biggest change: “We had one protection call in high school: ‘Roger and Louie,’ ” Evans said. “If I heard, ‘Roger,’ then I was going right. And if I heard, ‘Louie,’ then I was going left. Now it’s all of this crazy stuff, and it’s hard to lock in. The speed and the strength of the game is crazy.”
Peppers’ protege: Evans’ high school friends didn’t join him at Michigan. He has become close with fellow Wolverines freshmen Josh Uche, Devin Asiasi and Quinn Nordin. He also has bonded with a certain all-purpose junior sensation.
“Every day, Jabrill Peppers, coach Don Brown and I stand back to take punts,” Evans said. “I feel that if I pick up one thing from him every day, then by the time he leaves, I can just fall in for him.
“We use an analogy that he is like an ice tray, and he’s already full of ice inside of the freezer. As soon as the ice pops back out, and he goes to the NFL, then I can be the new water that we can fill in right away to put back in the freezer.”
House party: Texts and calls bombarded Evans after his debut at home against Hawaii. Countless fans tweeted about him, and some turned his face into their Twitter avatars.
“That was mind-boggling because I’ve never had that before,” he said. “I had to block it out. I didn’t want to be that one kid that had the big game then disappeared. I knew that God gave me this situation and I didn’t want to overdo it and ruin it.”
Doppelganger: The tall Afro and glasses aren’t new. In junior high, Evans and a friend stood on two boxes — one smaller than the other — for a picture and posted it online. His classmates noticed a resemblance to a certain 1980s-90s musical figure.
“People just started saying I look like the guy from Kid ’n Play,” he said, referring to Christopher “Kid” Reid (pictured above). “So from there – in seventh grade – it took off, and everyone’s parents knew.”
Evans’ Twitter name? @KidnPlay_abc123.
Final words: “Go to the school that you love, not what everyone else loves,” Evans said. “Whether it’s big or small, go to where you want to go. Take care of yourself, get sleep and take care of your body.”
Evans takes the field as the shared No. 2 running back with Isaac behind Smith in just his fourth game with the Wolverines against Penn State this Saturday.