Patience Earns Sharpley His First Start

When Evan Sharpley arrived on Notre Dame's campus three years ago, he ran the scout team as the third-string quarterback behind a guy named David Wolke, and of course Brady Quinn. Last season, he was Quinn's backup, which meant he took just a snap or two more in practice than you did at home.

This season, Sharpley watched Demetrius Jones and Jimmy Clausen make their first career starts, as he stayed patient and continued to wait for his turn.

That opportunity is finally here.

Since donning an Irish jersey for the first time, the 6-foot-2, 216-pound Sharpley has outlasted three transfers at the position, kept his head up, and his nose to the grindstone. On Monday, Charlie Weis finally uttered the words Sharpley has been waiting to hear. The third-year head coach met with Sharpley and Clausen on Monday, and told them he'd be switching the two on the depth chart for Saturday's game against No. 9 USC (5-1).

So when the Marshall, Mich. product sat down in front of the media Tuesday evening, it was the first time he did so as Notre Dame's starting quarterback. Earlier in practice, it was Sharpley's first time getting the first and majority of the snaps.

It was a little weird.

"It was a different experience, but once I'm in that situation I just tried to make the best of it and play as hard as I could," Sharpley said.

It was a moment Sharpley wasn't sure would ever come, but one he always tried to stay positive about.

"I was very happy obviously, but at the same time I took it with a grain of salt because we're still focusing on USC and focusing on winning. We need to get back on track, and come in and have a good day of practice."

Sharpley has appeared in six games this season, completing 43-of-80 passes for 479 yards and three interceptions. He has thrown just two interceptions, and his efficiency rating is 111.42 compared to Clausen's 89.51. In two of those six appearances, Sharpley nearly saved the day for the Irish (1-6).

Against then No. 25 Purdue, Sharpley replaced an injured Clausen and rallied the Irish from a 26-6 third quarter deficit to a 26-19 game with just under eight minutes remaining. In the eventual 33-19 defeat, Sharpley was good on 16-of-26 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns. This past Saturday, Sharpley again replaced Clausen in the third quarter, and trailing 20-0, quickly instilled hope that the Irish could mount a comeback against No. 4 Boston College. On his first drive, Notre Dame went right down the field and scored. Sharpley's numbers weren't great, 11-of-29 for 135 yards and one touchdown, but he nearly pulled the Irish to within a touchdown, but a penalty nullified his second scoring strike of the game. That would've made the score 27-21, and another possible score ended with a missed field goal in the 27-14 loss.

It's the losses that drive Sharpley as much as trying to earn the starting job, and it reflected during his Q-and-A session with Notre Dame reporters.

"It's exciting, but at the same time I need to stay grounded and even keel," Sharpley said. He completed 1-of-2 passes for seven yards last season in mop-up duty. "We're not winning a lot of games right now and I think now being the quarterback, I need to kind of permeate that through our team and hopefully we can pick up the win."

With Clausen banged up and the competition being close between the two most of the fall, Weis decided to go with the guy with less wear and tear. Sharpley has also been the guy with the more impressive numbers, as when he enters the game, the Irish are normally down and trying to chuck their way back into the contest. Of the just nine completions Notre Dame has for over 20 yards this season, Sharpley has completed six of them.

Sharpley realizes completing passes and gaining yards won't come easy against the Trojans defense that ranks eighth nationally, only allowing 266.67 yards per game.

"They're very good," he stated. I could toss out some accolades at each position. They're very talented, and it's going to be a great challenge for us to come up with a good game plan."

A game plan he is finally very much involved in from the get go. Yet Sharpley is going into it with the same attitude he had as a scout team player, backup to Quinn, and as the patient man he's been this fall.

"I think with the type of preparation I've seen players here before me do, and the type of preparation I do myself now, I'm going to treat it just like any other game, prepare the same way," Sharpley explained. "The only difference is I'm going to be getting those game reps in practice now."


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