Hearst Connecticut Media Super 33 MVP: Record-setting Evanchick leads Darien to state title
Many would look at that play as the beginning of a stellar career at Darien in which Evanchick would break school and state records, end a long losing streak to arch-rival New Canaan and win one state and two FCIAC championships.
Evanchick remembers it a bit differently.
“I was extremely nervous and wary of being a freshman on varsity,” Evanchick recalled. “I was on the left side and the quarterback rolled out and I missed him initially, but grabbed him by the jersey and two of our senior linebackers came in and finished it off. It was a terrible tackle.”
It did feel pretty good though.
“It is a feeling I will never forget,” said Evanchick, who will play lacrosse at the University of Pennsylvania. “You are nervous a little bit every game until you make your first hit, but that game was beyond any nervous feeling I ever felt.”
The tackle may not have been one to highlight in film study, but it did launch a four-year span that would see Evanchick eventually break the state’s all-time sack record previously held by NFL star Dwight Freeney.
Now, Evanchick has been named the Hearst Connecticut Media Super 33 MVP, becoming the first defensive player to take home the honor.
The award gets piled on top of his Gatorade Player of the Year award, the Walter Camp Player of the Year award and more personal accolades.
But if you think Evanchick reveled in the spotlight, think again.
In the “look at me” age in which we live, it was always about team goals with Evanchick.
“He is so humbled by all these awards he has been getting,” Darien football coach Rob Trifone said. “He never wants the limelight. As he would get closer to Freeney’s record, his teammates would joke with him, but he was always so sincere and would always redirect the conversation to the game that week.”
Asked about his best times on the gridiron, the sack record does not even get brought up.
“The state championship was obviously the highlight,” Evanchick said of Darien’s win over Shelton in the Class LL finals. “Holding that trophy was the cherry on top of an amazing run with this group of guys. That was our ultimate goal, but it was kind of bittersweet to go out on a high note but realize I would not be playing with these guys again. We have been playing together since third grade and suddenly it was over.”
If the state championship is on the top of his list, never losing a Thanksgiving game to rival New Canaan comes in a close second.
Evanchick was a freshman, with sophomore George Reed playing the other defensive end when the Rams came to Darien in 2012.
It was his first time playing in front of a capacity crowd and it would be the first time Darien defeated its rivals on Thanksgiving in 10 years.
“That was the first win in a long time,” said Evanchick, a 6-foot-1, 235-pounder. “I always watched that game as a kid, dreaming of playing in it.”
The Blue Wave would not lose on Thanksgiving to New Canaan during Evanchick’s time, though the Rams did beat them in two Class L state finals.
Going out with a clean Thanksgiving slate is something Evanchick bursts with pride about.
“I am so thankful to finish my career having never lost that game,” Evanchick said. “It’s sweet knowing they never beat us on Thanksgiving. The fact we won the FCIAC title doing it twice made it even sweeter. It never gets old beating New Canaan.”
Praise has come in from around the state for Evanchick, including from Staples coach Marce Petroccio, whose team had to face Evanchick twice, once in the regular season and once in the LL opening round.
“Mark Evanchick is one of the best defensive linemen I have seen in a long time,” Petroccio said. “He has an incredible combination of speed, strength and leverage that reminds me of J.J. Watt. He is almost impossible to block.”
It was against Staples in November where Evanchick would take down the Wreckers quarterback, finishing the game with three sacks, putting him at 62 ½ for his career, leaving him alone atop the state record book.
Evanchick would end his career with 66 ½ sacks, four Turkey Bowl victories, two FCIAC championships and one Class LL championship.
True to his humble nature, Evanchick wants his legacy to not exist in the record books but with the team and attitude he leaves behind at Darien.
Evanchick always spent time with younger defensive players at practice, taking them to the sled to work when the offense was practicing, always with an eye toward Darien’s continued success after he has graduated.
“He is as good of a role model as I have ever coached,” Trifone said. “He could have sat there with his helmet off while the offense practiced but he never did. It was part of his inner motivation. It was that motivation that made him play better in bigger games.”
Whatever it is inside Evanchick motivating him, it worked not just for him but for the entire team who fed off his desire to win and constantly get better.
It is a huge reason why Darien won its first state title since 1996.
It may be a while before we see another player like Evanchick.