DARIEN — Rob Trifone has known Mark Evanchick for nearly a decade. He has coached him on the youth and now the high school football level.
Little, except for breadth of achievement and notoriety, has changed.
“He’s never been an extrovert,” said Trifone, the head coach at Darien. “There are some kids who clown around in practice, some who don’t. Mark has never been one. He just goes about his business and does what he’s supposed to do.”
Perhaps no FCIAC high school athlete has more reason to trumpet success this year than Evanchick, and there is no less likely candidate. Evanchick finished with 25 sacks last year and has a great chance of breaking Dwight Freeney’s state record. Yet Evanchick still speaks in measured tones and avoids the first person with the same dexterity used to dodge double teams.
“I can’t take credit for all of it,” Evanchick said of the numbers he put up last season, which resulted in the Blue Wave winning the FCIAC championship against New Canaan and then losing in a state final rematch. “I’ve had so many great coaches, trainers and teammates who have all helped me get this far. There are too many to name.”
To those whose attention on high school sports begins in September and ends before the new year, it will come as a surprise that a player as accomplished and dominant as Evanchick will be hanging up his helmet for good once the Blue Wave’s season ends, quite possibly, again, in the second week of December. Evanchick, considered by many the state’s premier lacrosse player last spring, gave a verbal commitment last year to play the sport at the University of Pennsylvania.
Though Evanchick’s football prospects have changed since making the choice, there has been no looking back.
“A lot of people ask why I won’t be playing football and the answer is simple,” Evanchick said. “Football recruiting starts a year later and I had these offers on the table in lacrosse. I couldn’t give up the opportunity to play at these outstanding schools. I didn’t want to take a might for a guarantee.”
Right now, lacrosse — and next year — has again been compartmentalized and moved to the side.
Evanchick’s sack total — for his career now at 43; Freeney finished with 60 — was no doubt aided by playing on one of the league’s best defensive lines in recent memory, with George Reed at the other end and Jack Tyrrell and Jack Griffiths inside.
“Those guys on the field, they were outstanding players, and off the field they were some of my best friends,” Evanchick said. “That definitely helped.”
Those expecting Evanchick to be more easily contained this year may be in for a surprise. Evanchick is better, but those surrounding him, largely an unknown trio right now, have the potential to be just as dominant. That includes Justin Plank, Cord Fox and Quinlin Fay. If Trifone wants to mix things up a little bit, he can rotate in Spencer Stovall, the 265-pound offensive tackle.
“Early on what we did last year was move him around from right to left,” Trifone said. “I have to say right now, early on, where we suffered heavy graduation losses, the new guys have played extremely well.”
Though Evanchick leads more by example, he has been working hard to expedite the unit’s development.
“I’m definitely training the other linemen,” Evanchick said. “I’m getting them used to the system and getting them ready to go against some of the outstanding linemen there are in the league.”
Practices are made entertaining when Evanchick lines up against left tackle Andrew Stueber, a 6-6, 315-pound junior tackle who could be the player with the biggest — no pun intended — growth in exposure this year.
“It’s clash of the titans,” Trifone said with a chuckle. “They purposely go against each other. Mark thinks ‘If I can get by this guy, I can get by anybody,’ and vice versa.”
At 6-feet tall, Evanchick’s body type makes him a better fit for lacrosse in college. Factor in heart and drive and it becomes a draw.
Evanchick was asked if his college decision would be more difficult if he had not made an early commitment.
“It definitely would be,” he said. “I didn’t believe my football skill was better than my lacrosse skill, but I wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity at the University of Pennsylvania to see how I did football-wise.”
Talk to Evanchick about lacrosse in a few months. For now, he has just one concern.
“We’ve definitely gotten a lot of hype, but we’re trying to ignore it,” Evanchick said. “Put our nose to the grindstone and focus on improving to get better as a team. I just want to be able to look back as a double champion. Defend our FCIAC title and end up as a state champion.”