“If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!“
(Excerpt from If, by Rudyard Kipling)
When you grow up in Marshall, Michigan, you spend your time dreaming of the day when you’ll don the maize and blue for the Wolverines of Michigan and shine as a quarterback in the Big 10 conference. But as fate would have it, when Evan Sharpley reached high school and began to make some college visits he quickly realized there was more to school than just football. At this point he began to search for a school that could fulfill all of his needs: academically, athletically, spiritually and socially. It didn’t take long for Notre Dame to emerge from the pack as the best school to develop him in all aspects of his life, not just football. Though Evan’s journey may not have turned out exactly as he had planned, he has grown wise beyond his years; he has developed not only from coaches’ instruction and classroom teaching but also from real life experiences, and has matured into a young man ready to help other young men and women on their journeys through life.
Q: How does a Michigan raised boy end up playing football at Notre Dame?
A: “I was born in Pontiac, Michigan and when I was about one year old my family relocated to Marshall, Michigan. Growing up in the heart of Wolverine country, I always imagined myself lacing up the spikes and donning the maize and blue of Michigan. We 100% hated Ohio State in my house, but there certainly wasn’t any love for Notre Dame in our household either! But once I started making recruiting trips my eyes began to open and I realized I wanted more out of college than just football. I wanted to find a school that could offer me an education, spiritual development, social interaction as well as an excellent football program. After visiting a few Big 10 schools, Notre Dame very quickly rose to the top of the pack as one of the few schools who could offer me everything I was looking for.”
“College was always more to me than just football. I always promised myself that if I didn’t get an offer to play football somewhere that I would go to college on an academic scholarship. I wanted to be at a college where I could not only get what I needed academically, but also spiritual guidance and personal development. I wanted a school that could offer me not only an excellent football program but an excellent baseball program as well. Notre Dame was the only school where 100% of those things could happen.”
“I attended camps at Iowa, Purdue, Michigan and Notre Dame. I knew I needed to get on these various campuses and perform well at camp to be noticed. I also visited Michigan State along with some other Big 10 and MAC schools. I was heavily recruited by several Ivy League schools but they didn’t give many scholarships. I enjoyed the process of getting recruited even though it was stressful at times. Once I got the offer from Notre Dame, I felt very much at peace and knew it was where I needed to be. I also knew once I committed I wasn’t going to change my mind. Even when there were major coaching staff changes during that offseason (coach Tyrone Willingham resigned following that college football bowl game season and Notre Dame hired Coach Charlie Weis), I knew the University would bring in a qualified coach. I know it’s so cliché, but it’s true … Notre Dame is a “4 year decision for a 40 year future.” I don’t regret my decision to attend and play football at Notre Dame one bit. It’s been great to see the path that it’s taken me on. From Marshall High School to where I am now. Amazing.”
“When I made my recruiting trip to Notre Dame, Kyle McCarthy and I took our visit together, and quarterback Brady Quinn was my host. Only 12 guys signed with Notre Dame due to the significant coaching changes that were going on. The incredible thing to me is how so many guys take their visits to Notre Dame during the winter and don’t run away screaming!”
Q: What is your best Notre Dame Football memory?
A: “Throwing my first touchdown pass during the Purdue game my junior year is definitely something I will never forget. I came in late in the third quarter when Jimmy Clausen got injured. That first drive down the field, I felt so confident in what I was doing, it was unbelievable. All of the hard work, the time, and the sacrifices, to final see it all come to life; that’s what you play the game for. I connected with Duval Kamara on a pass dropped into the back of the end zone. That’s what you dream about.”
“But there are so many other moments. To be on the field for the 2005 Bush push play. The emotions were so high. To go from thinking we had won to having it all taken away. The intensity of the high-scoring game against Michigan State in the rain that kept going back and forth between the two teams. The late touchdown pass from Brady Quinn to Jeff Samardzija in the game at UCLA. To go from playing small town high school football in Marshall, Michigan to being in Notre Dame Stadium in front of 80,000 screaming fans. Being a part of the team, whether you were playing or not. My time at Notre Dame was filled with so many wonderful and amazing moments and experiences.”
“Learning from a guy like Brady Quinn, both on and off the field, was a very important part of my experience at Notre Dame. Being behind him for two years, someone who had so much success on the field and who represented the university so well off the field. I patterned my game and work ethic after him. Hopefully I was able to do the same thing for the guys who played behind me.”
Q: Can you talk about all of the change that happened while you were at Notre Dame? And what it was like playing football for Coach Weis?
A: “I was recruited by Coach Tyrone Willingham, who then resigned following Notre Dame’s bowl game appearance. The University hired Charlie Weis to be the next Notre Dame head coach. Then during my sophomore year the head baseball coach left Notre Dame to go coach the LSU baseball program. All of this change was extremely difficult for me. Coach Paul Mainieri,the Notre Dame Baseball coach, was instrumental in getting me to come to Notre Dame. He told me, “Listen, Evan. Even though Coach Willingham and his staff are no longer here, all of the reasons why you wanted to come to Notre Dame are all still there. Yes, the coaching staff has changed, but the University will go out and hire a great football coach and you still have the academics and faith development. Coach (Paul) Mainieri was one of those people who you wanted to be around. It was definitely a challenge to have to get used to being around new coaching staffs in both football and baseball. It tested my attitude and the effort that I was going to put into my game on a daily basis.”
“From a professional standpoint, Coach Weis did an excellent job at teaching us the game of football, and helping us to bring our game to the next level. For that I am very appreciative. He came from a great background and a successful NFL career. He knew how to teach us the Xs and Os, how to develop us on the field, but he did not know how to develop us as men. That was where I felt there was something missing. To go from being recruited by someone of such high character as Tyrone Willingham, to someone like Charlie Weis who was trying to run a pro style program at the college level was quite an adjustment.”
“The time you spend in college is a formative time of your life where you are steered and guided into who you are going to become later in life. Coach Willingham really knew how to do that. To have a father figure like that throughout college, that didn’t happen with Coach Weis. That was not his mentality or approach as a coach. Coming from a pro style mentality where everyone one was paid to be there, to a college environment where players needed to be coached, mentored and guided; he needed to adjust his philosophy and he did not. He will even admit that was his downfall. Some coaches are made to connect with their players, and some are not. We needed to be nurtured, there was more to college than just football.”
“I felt all too often that things were out of balance in my life during my college years. Sports have always been important in my life, but you need to be able to find a balance between sports, academics, faith and a social life.”
Q: What was it like being a student-athlete at Notre Dame? How did being a student-athlete at Notre Dame prepare you for life after college?
A: “I played three sports in high school and two at Notre Dame. Very quickly you learn how to balance your time in a wise fashion, but even so it took me a couple of years to master that at Notre Dame. Playing two collegiate sports and keeping up your academics at a school like Notre Dame is no easy feat. It took time to figure out how many friends I was going to have and how often I’d get to hang out with them, how much time I needed to spend studying, along with the time that I had to spend at practice, in the weight room, watching film, training table, and at team meetings. All of the time management skills and structure that sports provided in my life; that structure is still very prevalent in my life today and I am very grateful for that preparation and how it still benefits me today. As far as goal setting goes and the career moves I’ve made so far, that structure has been very helpful in guiding me to make the right decisions. I try to pass that along to the athletes that I work with because it is so lacking today. To help the kids who don’t have goals or things to look forward to, and to guide them towards a positive future.”
“During your freshman and sophomore years of college, it’s a huge wakeup call. I struggled with some depression sophomore year. That long with what I was dealing with on the football team, and breaking up with my girlfriend. Sophomore year was quite a struggle for me. I made some good decisions and I made some bad decisions, too; but it was a great learning experience for me. “
Q: Back in 2007, Evan was competing with Jimmy Clausen and Demetrius Jones for QB1. It was clear amongst the team that Evan was the best option and gave the team the best chance win. However, due to Coach Weis wanting to experiment with the spread offense he decided to start Demetrius. The next week, Coach Weis started Clausen at Penn St. At this time in his career he was clearly not ready to start on the big stage and he also has an injured elbow. The team knew that the staff was throwing the season in order to get the young guys on the field (rebuilding as they would say). During that 3-9 season Notre Dame didn’t score a TD until the 4th game of the season and our best QB was on the bench. How did Evan keep himself engaged during that tumultuous time? How difficult was it for him to watch a 3-9 team struggle on offense. (Question via Toryan Smith)
A: “After going through summer workouts and practice and not getting named the starting quarterback position, I was pretty heartbroken and for me that was one of the most difficult moments of my career. I had worked so hard. I had never been so focused in all of my life. In the weight room, watching films, on the practice field; I thought I had done everything I possibly could have done and I still didn’t get the starting position. We lost the first game that season(under Demetrius Jones), and then Jimmy Clausen started the second game as a true freshman. That was a very low moment for me. I contemplated leaving Notre Dame. I didn’t feel supported by the coaching staff. I met my brother (who was a freshman at Notre Dame at the time) at the Notre Dame Baseball field and he pitched to me. It was a hate filled batting practice.”
“It was a ‘fake it til you make it’ time of my life. I knew my goals, and as important as they were to me, they didn’t need to outweigh the goals of the team. I tried to put my bitterness aside and not share them with the team. What was most difficult for me was that I felt that I could have helped the team. We were not a nine loss team. We had a lot of talent on that team, including an awesome offensive line. For me, that was the hardest part of that season. That should have been my window, the beginning of my Notre Dame football career, but with Clausen coming in I did not get my chance.”
“I did my best to control what I could, my effort, and I put in the best effort that I possibly could. And I did my best to control my attitude. My attitude wasn’t always great, but I wanted my teammates to see that I could maintain a positive attitude and be a team player. I know guys still go through similar situations, but I would not wish it on anyone.”
“I contemplated leaving, but I was already three years into my education and I knew that sports were not going to last forever. At some point, that piece of paper, that diploma from Notre Dame, would open countless doors for me, and that was my priority.”
“18, 19, 20-year-olds don’t see life in terms of long-range goals. So many guys transfer because they don’t see their future. Instead they want instant gratification. Very few guys go on to play professional ball, and even if they do even fewer actually make any money playing at the next level. Get your education for when sports is over.”
Q: What made you pursue a baseball career after college as opposed to a football career? What was it like playing professional/minor league baseball after college?
A: “During my fourth year at Notre Dame, following the baseball season, I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do next. I had not decided at that point whether or not I was going to come back for a fifth year. I had not heard from a lot of MLB teams and my senior baseball season had not gone as I wanted it to; neither individually nor as a team. I was spending some time doing some soul-searching about what I wanted to next when I got drafted in the final round of the MLB draft. Getting the opportunity to pursue a childhood dream was awesome.”
“When you get drafted in the first round of the MLB draft, you get a bonus in the 5 to 10 million dollar range.I got a one thousand dollar bonus and a bought myself a mac book.”
“I played professional baseball for three years and won championships on my first two teams. It was awesome being a part of a winning experience after not winning in baseball or football at Notre Dame. I loved being around guys who knew to win. It was a dream come true to be able to play professional baseball, but you really have to love it to live that kind of lifestyle. Long bus trips, not a lot of food, not a lot of pay. You need to have a great passion for the game of baseball to live that way for a long period of time.”
“I promised myself that when the time came to move on that I wouldn’t be standing on that baseball field saying, ‘why am I still here?’”
“When my baseball career didn’t pan out, I decided to move on.”
Q: Where did life take you after football/baseball?
A: “During the off-seasons of my professional baseball career I spent my time working as a youth director at my church. When it was time to move on from baseball, I got in touch with a fitness facility in Elkhart and was hired on as a manager at the fitness center. I worked there for a year and a half and then that opportunity ended. That was God’s swift kick in the butt to say, ‘your time is done here.’ With the support of my wife, I opened my own performance facility in Elkhart, Sharpley Training, a little over six months ago. I am my own boss; I create my own schedule, create my own culture and get to teach life lessons while I train athletes. I am training quarterbacks as well. It is very rewarding to be able to do the work that I do. To help people athletically as well as to impart some life lessons along the way. I am also able to bring my dog (Bulldog: Coco) to work with me every day which I absolutely love. What I say goes. I set the rules at the facility and I have a lot of fun doing what I do at work every day.”
“I’ve also, surprisingly, gotten some media gigs along the way. I feel as though I bring a unique perspective to covering sports after having played it at a very high level. I started writing for the South Bend Tribune, and for WSBT I started hosting my own radio show; first during home games, and now during home and away games. I get to interview former players and tell their stories, and I get to interview some of the younger guys to give fans a glimpse of the next generation of players.”
“I started writing for Irish 24/7 at the beginning of this year and I write between four and six articles a week; analyzing coaching, covering what to expect in the coming season, and recruiting. I have been analyzing the next cycle of recruits, helping out with recruiting camps, breaking down film, and giving feedback on current players.It is a great opportunity for me to stay closely involved in Notre Dame sports in a low stress environment. I’ve don’t have to make the cut. I don’t have any pressure to win. All I have to do is share my knowledge and expertise. It’s a win-win situation for sure.”
I’d love to give a big thank you to Evan for stopping by the blog! You can read more about Evan in Volume II of Echoes From the End Zone: The Men We Became due out in 2016. Stay tuned for more stories in the “Where Are They Now?” series! Also, you can follow Evan on Twitter here, and if you’d like to learn more about Sharpley Training, please check out their website!
Cheers & GO IRISH!