DARIEN—There was not much advance hype for sophomore Mark Evanchick prior to last year’s opening game against Hillhouse, when he finished with eight tackles, including three for losses, and was a constant presence in the opposing backfield.
It was a foreshadowing of a season in which the Darien defensive end was the breakout star of the FCIAC season, with a performance that even surprised his coach a little.
“I’ve known Mark since the DJFL days and he’s always been a special player, but translating that into a high school player, your never know,” said Rob Trifone, referring to the Darien Junior Football League. “I didn’t expect him to come out of the blocks like he did.”
Now, as the Blue Wave prepare for a season in which many consider them the conference favorite, their defense is a big reason for the high regard. And Evanchick is a marked man, certain to be a focal point of opposing game plans, as he was during the second half of last season.
“It was pretty nice, but then again it wasn’t,” Evanchick said of the publicity that comes when you finish with 14 sacks. “It made my job pretty difficult and the defense’s as a whole.”
Evanchick has a preternatural ability off the snap, and when he wasn’t bringing down the quarterback, he was at least applying pressure that allowed teammates to get sacks or caused errant throws.
Asked to account for Evanchick’s success, Trifone said, “I think it is a combination of athleticism and power. He comes off the line so quick and is so powerful, as you try to block him you are immediately on your heels, and that’s what he does to opposing linemen. He is blessed with those two qualities.
Evanchick has a lot of blessings. He had an equally impressive debut for Darien’s lacrosse team, when he was a lockdown defender and after the season gave a verbal commitment to play at the University of Pennsylvania.
The lone downside? He missed spring football.
“It was a little harder my sophomore year but I’ve adjusted to how my schedule works because of lacrosse,” Evanchick said. “It’s hard because it is two sports that I love but two different body types I have to be in shape for. For football I have to be heavier but for lacrosse I have to be a little light.”
Evanchick said his ideal football weight is 235 pounds, 20 heavier than for lacrosse.
“It’s very difficult,” Evanchick said. “Putting it on is the easy part and taking it off is a little bit of a challenge.”
Evanchick actually made his varsity football debut for the final three games of the 2012 season, which Trifone said expedited his development.
“It helped his baptism and made his sophomore year a lot easier,” Trifone said.
Darien should have two of the biggest offensive and defensive lines in the state. Evanchick forms a perfect bookend with the other defensive end, George Reed.
“Mark is quiet, humble, kind of unassuming,” Trifone said. “The irony of it is George Reed is just the opposite and makes no bones about it. He’s boisterous and outgoing. Mark lets his actions speak. They’re polar opposites. They help each other out being edge players.”
Added Evanchick, “My parents always taught me to be humble and act like I’ve been there before, and that’s what I have to do.”
Darien was one of the surprise teams last season, finishing 12-2, defeating New Canaan in the Turkey Bowl and reaching the Class L championship game before losing a rematch with the Rams. The only other loss was to St. Joseph, which also won a state title.
Now the Blue Wave are the team being touted, and Evanchick one of the players in the spotlight.
“All the media attention is nice, but it’s a burden in disguise,” Evanchick said. “It paints a target on the team’s back as a whole. We’ve worked really hard in the weight room this offseason and really put in the time and conditioned hard. I think we’re going to have some success this year. If we continue to work hard we can be very successful.”