Can Zach Evans help turnaround TCU?
Last week saw a final resolution to one of the wildest recruiting rides in recent times. In stark contrast to everything that came before, Zach Evans quietly enrolled at Texas Christian University putting an end to months of uncertainty. But who is Zach Evans, how did he end up at TCU, and what does his recruitment mean for the Horned Frogs?
Zach Evans and his wild recruiting ride
At 6’0 and 200lb, with 4.51 speed in the 40-yard dash, Zach Evans was every bit the prototypical “man amongst boys” at the high school level. After a junior season that saw him rack up over 1700 yards and 29 touchdowns, he was lauded as the number one prospect in the nation by ESPN. In helping the North Shore High School Mustangs to a Texas State Championship, he put himself on the radar for every major college football program as the 2020 recruiting cycle kicked into gear.
What followed was a recruiting process as wild as they come.
To great anticipation, Zach Evans released his “Top 5” college choices in late May 2019. Despite visiting every major program in the nation, including those close to home in Texas and Texas A&M the initial list would consist of Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Oklahoma, and Ohio State.
After describing himself and North Shore teammate Damieon George as a “package deal” in June, it appeared likely that Evans would land at Alabama with George.
Despite this, there was no indication of a landing spot for Zach Evans until late July when a picture of him in a Georgia uniform accompanied by a dog emoji and a question mark was posted on his Twitter page. With Georgia’s reputation for producing high-quality running back talent for the NFL, it was a fit that made perfect sense.
Troubled times in North Shore, Texas
As the recruiting process heated up, things began to unravel at North Shore for Zach Evans. Due to “disciplinary reasons”, he missed two games early in the season. At the first of the two he was due to announce his commitment but all that came in the following months was a three-word tweet.
Evans continued to take visits around the country. As fall became winter, he released another shortlist of candidates for his service. This time they included a potential home state tie in with Texas A&M.
His heart however, seemed destined for Georgia and although there would be no official announcement until The Under Armour All-American Game, it became clear that he had signed his national letter of intent during the early signing period.
Refusal, release, and another ride on the rodeo
More drama had unfolded at North Shore in the meantime. In trying to pass the ACT, and in the process make sure he was eligible for the spring semester at his new college, Evans missed the first half of North Shore’s state semi-final win. A testament to his obvious ability, he rattled off 176 yards and two touchdowns and the Mustangs made state for the second time in his tenure.
Zach Evans would never play in that Championship Game. In refusing to give up his mobile phone he contravened team rules and was sent home. It was just the latest incident of several that raised question marks about the young man’s maturity.
The announcement of his commitment to Georgia never came at the All-American Game.
Five days later, the Bulldogs released Zach Evans from his letter of intent, and he saddled up for another recruiting rodeo. In addition to LSU and Texas A&M, who he had already flirted with prior to signing with Georgia, he added visits to Tennessee, Ole Miss, and Florida. With lockdown in place, Evans never made it to Florida and quietly enrolled with TCU last Monday.
Can Zach Evans turn around a TCU program that performed poorly in 2019?
Zach Evans joins a TCU football program that had a disappointing 2019 campaign. Since Gary Patterson took charge for his first full season in 2001, they had recorded only three losing campaigns but went 5-7 last year. It was the first season that they hadn’t made it to a bowl game since 2013. Prior to that, they last failed to play in bowl season at the end of 2004.
They have lost several key offensive pieces to the NFL Draft with Jalen Reagor defying expectation to be taken in the first round by the Philadelphia Eagles and Lucas Niang being drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs.
Although those two players are big losses, the beating heart of the TCU offense from 2019 has been ripped out by the loss of Darrius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua. The two running backs combined for 1360 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2019, with quarterback Max Duggan only throwing for one more touchdown than they contributed.
The offensive success in 2020 will of course depend on an improvement in the quarterback play of Duggan, but if TCU are to continue to be employ a double headed monster out of the backfield then Zach Evans is going to be a valuable piece of the puzzle.
The greatest running back in Texas history?
It may be hyperbolic to describe a kid who hasn’t stepped foot on a college football field “the next Adrian Peterson” but those are the comparisons that he is already drawing. He’s a do-it-all runner who can grind it out between the hashes but at the same time has the explosiveness, athleticism, and speed to be able to bounce outside.
Peterson drew criticism, especially at the NFL level, with his lack of ability to contribute in the passing game. Zach Evans can also contribute effectively as a pass-catching back which adds an additional dimension to his game.
For TCU fans, the excitement in landing a player of Zach Evans’ talent is tempered by the route he took to get to Fort Worth, and by some of the off-field transgressions that blighted his high school career.
By his own admission he has made some “stupid mistakes” along the path to TCU. In an established coach like Gary Patterson he may have the perfect mentor to help guide him.
If they can extract every bit of his talent whilst helping him grow off the field, he could be the best running back to suite up in purple since LaDainian Tomlinson.
OLIVER HODGKINSON IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL WRITER FOR THE TOUCHDOWN. HE ALSO WRITES ON THE NFL FOR THE PRO FOOTBALL NETWORK. YOU CAN HEAR HIS OPINIONS ON ALL THINGS COLLEGE FOOTBALL AS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.
Feature Image Credit: Tim Warner/Houston Chronicle