HUNTINGTON — If, prior to the football season, someone had said one of Marshall’s team captains for the 2020 opener would come from the running back room, few would have been surprised.
After all, the Thundering Herd returns Conference USA Most Valuable Player Brenden Knox to the backfield following a stellar year that saw him serve as a captain on several occasions during his sophomore campaign.
However, Knox was not the running back to be named captain for Saturday’s 1 p.m. home game against Eastern Kentucky. That honor went to fellow junior backup running back Sheldon Evans.
As Marshall head coach Doc Holliday pointed out, that’s no slight to Knox in the least. Instead, it’s a fitting tribute to Evans, who has gone about his business the right way and proven himself as a leader on the team.
“Everybody knows what Knox is all about and what great respect everybody has for Knox, but Knox himself would tell you that Sheldon Evans is as good of a leader as we’ve got on this football team,” Holliday said.
Holliday has often said Evans is one of those players that every team has to have to be successful.
The 5-foot-11, 200-pound junior from Roswell, Georgia, serves on several special teams for the Thundering Herd while backing up Knox in the run game.
As Holliday and offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey have pointed out, there was no production dropoff with Evans when he would spell Knox, either.
Although it was a smaller sample size, Evans averaged 5.4 yards on 69 carries in 2019 while finishing as the team’s second-leading rusher.
In a time where players within a same class and same position as the starter often transfer, Evans opted to grow closer with Knox, building a bond that makes them one of Conference USA’s top returning tandems for the 2020 season.
No matter what role Evans is asked to play, Holliday said he demands attention by the example he sets for his teammates.
“What a great story he is,” Holliday said. “He came in as a freshman, and just the work he’s put into it and the respect he has from his teammates, it’s a privilege to be able to name Sheldon as one of our captains.”
Evans rushed for 375 yards last season while also serving as the team’s kick returner. He is expected to increase production in each role this season, again serving as the primary kick returner while increasing his workload in the backfield as part of a 1-2 punch with Knox that will keep the Herd’s rushing attack fresh and also help protect new quarterback Grant Wells.
While Evans has plenty of tangible qualities on the field that make him an asset, Holliday pointed to his intangibles — work ethic, demeanor, mentorship of younger players, team-first mentality — as areas that made Evans one of the team’s most valuable players.
Last week, Holliday said everyone got to see what the coaches already knew when Evans got up to speak in front of the team — a tradition for game captains once they are named for a given week.
“He’s just got such great respect of our team,” Holliday said. “I wish you all would have had the opportunity to hear him get up Saturday at the end of practice and talk to our team as a captain.
“He’s just tremendous. He’s always got a great message, and that kid is just a tremendous kid that we love to death.”