Darien’s Mark Evanchick is Hearst Connecticut Media’s male athlete of the year
DARIEN — Mark Evanchick had heard enough.
While his teammates basked in the glow of a 28-21 overtime victory over rival New Canaan in the FCIAC football final in 2014, Evanchick was busy counting down the days before he could return to the field to test his bum ankle and heal a slightly bruised ego. Lucas Niang, an imposing 6-foot-6, 295-pound tackle with a lengthy list of offers from premier college programs, had gotten the better of the Blue Wave’s hobbled pass rusher, and Rob Trifone used a recent television segment about Niang to motivate his normally reserved star.
Evanchick got another crack at Niang two weeks later and delivered a monster effort, albeit in a 21-20 loss in the Class L-Large final.
“In the first half against Niang, he’s got four sacks,” the Darien coach recalled last week. “It’s because Coach Trifone was under his skin all damn week about how good Lucas Niang was, and Mark Evanchick stinks.
“He told me later on, ‘Coach, I was sick and tired of listening to you.’ ”
Added Evanchick: “(My ankle) was at about 80 percent. I just wanted a chance to redeem myself. … I still wasn’t satisfied, even after that state championship game.”
THE EVANCHICK FILE
WHO: Mark Evanchick
HIGH SCHOOL: Darien
FOOTBALL: Defensive end graduated with 66.5 career sacks, surpassing the state record held previously by Dwight Freeney (60) … Set school records for tackles for loss (39) and sacks (23.5) in a season … Walter Camp Connecticut High School Player of the Year … Gatorade State Player of the Year … CHSCA All-State first team, All-FCIAC first team defense, Walter Camp All-Connecticut defense … Had team-high 89 tackles, two forced fumbles … Blue Wave finished 12-0 and won FCIAC and Class LL titles.
LACROSSE: State Player of the Year by U.S. Lacrosse for second straight season … Played in Under Armor All-America game … CHSCA All-State first team, All-FCIAC first team defense … Blue Wave finished 23-0 with FCIAC and Class L titles, and was ranked second in final MaxPreps Xcellent 25 National rankings.
QUOTABLE: “All you’ve got to do is look at the history. Someone like Mark Evanchick, who starts at defensive end for you four years straight and sets the state sack record, how can you duplicate that?” — Rob Trifone, Darien football coach
— DOUG BONJOUR
Fast forward 12 months and there was Evanchick, kneeling amidst a sea of elation following a 39-7 throttling of Shelton in the Class LL final. The win put a bow on Darien’s unbeaten season and cemented Evanchick as arguably the most dominant defensive lineman this state has seen.
Much to the chagrin of his coaches and delight of opponents, Evanchick’s illustrious four-year run at Darien finally came to a close this spring. In a familiar setting, Evanchick, a shutdown defender, celebrated yet another championship on the lacrosse field.
“He’s the best football player in the state and the best lacrosse player in the state. I think that’s pretty rare,” said Bobby Lutz, who was in charge of the defense for Darien’s boys lacrosse team for eight years prior to becoming head coach at Greenwich. “That’s a special season, a special kid.”
Evanchick, the Hearst Connecticut Media Male Athlete of the Year, first opened eyes on the gridiron while playing up an age group as a seventh-grader. Too heavy to play alongside his classmates — Evanchick weighed roughly 205 pounds his father, Joe, recalled — Evanchick shared the field with the eighth-graders.
“All I was looking at,” Evanchick’s mother, Christine, said, “was ‘Oh my God, my younger son is playing with these older boys. It was the same when he was a freshman. It was, ‘My 13- or 14-year-old is playing with these 18-year-old boys. Is he prepared for this?’ ”
Equipped with the foot speed and physical strength needed to adapt to the position, Evanchick more than held his own against players slightly older than him. By that point it had become clear Evanchick had a bright future in football.
“He was so big and fast and powerful for his age,” Trifone recalled. “He was the best lineman in that class.”
Evanchick also picked up lacrosse at a young age, first as a goalie and later as a long pole defender. Once he arrived at Darien, a program oozing with success, he became the first freshman to start on defense.
“When Mark was at the high school, he asked if he had a shot playing as a freshman,” Lutz said. “I laughed. Only (Duke star) Case Matheis, because of an injury, played as a freshman.”
It turns out Evanchick developed into more than just an average starter. U.S. Lacrosse named the University of Pennsylvania-bound defenseman the Connecticut Player of the Year as both a junior and senior.
“I’m not a lacrosse guy. I grew up (playing football) in northeast Ohio,” Joe said. “I wasn’t really sure how good a lacrosse player he was,” (His peers) were pretty certain he was a good player. I took their word for it. I get it now.”
With just 48 seconds left before halftime in Darien’s eventual 27-0 blanking of Staples in November, Evanchick etched his name into the record books by taking down quarterback Andrew Speed. It was career sack No. 60.5, breaking the state record held by former Bloomfield High standout and current NFL veteran Dwight Freeney.
Following the game, Evanchick was presented with a video on the school jumbotron of Freeney congratulating him on the record.
“That’s something I’ll never forget,” Evanchick said. “That’s one of the coolest things ever. Wow, that sent chills down my spine.”
Added his brother Drew, a rising junior on both the football and lacrosse teams: “He, I and the team had no clue that would happen. That was pretty crazy for all of us.”
There were times when Evanchick was close to unblockable. He registered a school-record 23.5 sacks as a senior and 66.5 for his career. Darien captured its first state crown in 19 years, and Evanchick scooped up nearly every postseason award there was to offer.
“I used to tell the officials they were going to hold him every play,” Trifone said.
“You just had to figure out how many times you’re going to call it.”
Part of Evanchick’s prowess on the field, Trifone said, stems from the work the 6-foot, 235-pound end put in in the gym.
Evanchick was part of an exclusive group called the 1,000-Pound Squad, whose members surpassed 1,000 pounds combined in the bench press, squats and power clean.
“I’ve probably had less than 10 over a 37-year span,” Trifone said. “Probably somewhere in the seven to eight range. Most of them were probably bigger than Mark.”
Once football was over and the spring rolled around, Evanchick was required to trade strength for speed in order to get ready for lacrosse. Fortunately, that never became a problem.
“Usually a kid his size doesn’t have the footwork, but it was amazing to see how quickly he could move,” Lutz said. “It almost fit perfectly.”
THE NEXT CHAPTER
Why is the state’s career sack leader opting to play lacrosse over football in college? Evanchick has a simple answer to a question he’s been asked many times before.
“Football has my heart,” he said, “but lacrosse has my ticket to college.”
As good as Evanchick was in football, Lutz said, he might have been even better in lacrosse.
There were many instances, the former assistant recalled, when Evanchick was so good he made the opponent’s top scoring threat irrelevant.
“For Mark, he just shut down the other guy,” Lutz said. “It was just something special because you didn’t have to worry about the opposing team’s best player. Unfortunately, there was no glamour to it.”
And that’s perfectly fine for Evanchick, who’s never been one to boast despite his celebrity status around Darien.
“He really wasn’t a trash talker,” Drew said. “He played the game and minded his business. He never let anything anyone said get in his way.”
Evanchick preferred to let his play do the talking, particularly in Darien’s thumping of Southington in the Class LL semifinals. Motivated by the barbs lobbed his way after beating out quarterback Jasen Rose for Gatorade Player of the Year honors, Evanchick helped the Blue Wave register a 49-7 thumping.
“That lit a fire under me,” he said. “I had never been chirped like that before. … I wanted to win that game more than anything and embarrass them, and we did.”
For the foreseeable future, Evanchick plans to put football on hold and focus on lacrosse and his academics as a possible finance major. As remarkable as the past was, he’s ready to see what the future holds.
“Unlike so many other people, we had the opportunity to watch him play four years, not just his senior year,” Christine said. “It was a real gift. In that sense, we were really fortunate.”