Notre Dame, IN (UHND) – For the third season in a row, Notre Dame could have a freshman wide receiver make an immediate impact. Last year Michael Floyd hauled in his first career catch for a touchdown in the season opener. The year before it was Duval Kamara. This year, Inglewood, California native Shaquelle Evans has been moving his way up the Irish depth chart and looks ready to make a push for playing time.
Evans, originally a USC commitment before selecting Notre Dame, caught 51 passes for 810 yards with 11 touchdowns last year as a senior at Inglewood High School. Since arriving in campus, he’s been one of the most impressive freshman on the practice field so far. Last week Charlie Weis talked quite a bit about Evans and suggested that he could be used in three receiver sets with starters Golden Tate and Michael Floyd. Weis also said that Evans has speed similar to that of starting wide receiver and Biletnikoff watch list member Golden Tate.
Throughout camp, Evans has not looked much like a freshman – he’s looked much more polished. In the open practice, Evans looked sharp running routes and was easily one of the most impressive receivers on the field that day. He was smooth in and out of cuts and caught the ball very well.
Evans has gotten more reps throughout camp than he may have due to Duval Kamara’s absence from the practice fields after getting his knee scoped earlier in camp. Kamara has resumed running in straight lines, but has yet to resume making cutes which means that Evans will have more time to stake his claim for the third wide receiver spot that Kamara was the favorite for when camp began.
Kamara’s absence has given the other young Irish receivers extra reps as well though and Evans will have to battle out senior Robby Parris and sophomores Deion Walker and John Goodman for reps in the wide receiver rotation. Evans might be the most complete wide receiver of the bunch though and could push for the third receiver even once Kamara is back on the field.
Kamara won’t go down without a fight though. It was just two years ago that Kamara was the hot shot freshman breaking the freshman receiving records at Notre Dame before Floyd came in last year and rewrote them. Kamara caught 32 passes for 357 yards and 4 touchdowns as a freshman in 2007, but fell off last year with just 20 catches for 201 yards and a single touchdown.
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for the freshman though. Evans admitted to experiencing a case of home sickness upon arriving on campus, but said that it quickly passed. He also admitted that he picked up the offense a lot quicker than he thought he would at last week’s freshman media day.
Before ever stepping foot on Notre Dame’s campus this summer, Evans was getting complimented on his skills. In December, former star NFL wide receiver Andre Rison said that Evans looked like he was physically ready for playing in the NFL. Rivals.com compared the Irish wide out to a young Laverneus Coles at last summer’s Top Gun camp.
The Irish coaching staff has been very complimentary of Evans since he’s arrived on campus as well. It’s clear that they expect a lot out of him as well by the attention he receivers during the individual drills.
Evans might not challenge Floyd’s freshman records barring injury with Floyd and Golden Tate having the starting spots locked down. Floyd did afterall catch 48 passes for 719 yards and 7 touchdowns. Evans does, however, have a chance to make a big impact on the Irish offense. Notre Dame has not had a relievable third option at wide receiver since Charlie Weis has arrived. The closest the Irish have been to having that relievable third option was 2005 before Rhema McKnight got injured in the second game of the season. Evans has a chance to become that third receiver if not by next weekend’s opener, then by the end of the season.
Whatever role Evans ends up playing this season, it’s clear that for the third season in a row Notre Dame has a freshman receiver on campus that will make an immediate impact. Just how big of an impact remains to be seen, but if I had to guess I’d say that Evans’s production will far somewhere in between Kamara’s 2007 stats and Floyd’s 2008.