INDIANAPOLIS -- Darren Evans dominated Indiana high school football to a degree that few running backs have matched.
Evans rushed for 7,220 yards in three years at Warren Central. He ran for a state-record 61 touchdowns as a senior in 2006 as the Warriors won their fourth consecutive Class 5A state championship. His teammates and coaches in the Warren program felt compelled to attach a catchy nickname to Evans, calling him the "ATM" -- automatic touchdown machine.
Newspapers and television stations heralded his splashy statistics and accomplishments. But what fans didn't see was how it all came about for Evans, who won the 2006 Indiana Mr. Football award, moved on to Virginia Tech and now plays for the Colts. They didn't witness the toil and sweat that made his feats possible.
"One of the legacies Darren left behind is his work ethic," said Marques Clayton, who is Warren's athletic director and served as defensive coordinator during the Warriors' push to their unprecedented four straight titles. "It was the stuff he did behind the scenes that helped to make him a great player."
Evans showed up at 5:45 nearly every morning for off-season workouts. He was the team leader, and when he did it, others followed. Ask Evans now what sticks with him about his high school years, what he learned that helped his transition to college and pro football, and he cites that tireless devotion to hard work.
"At Warren, everybody worked hard, and it was hard to get on the field with a lot of kids," he said, referring to the bountiful rosters that Warren fields every year. "You wanted to outdo everybody. You wanted to be the top guy getting the most playing time. That carried over."
Warren's streak of four state championships began when Evans was a freshman. As a sophomore, he rushed for 2,748 yards and Warren won with a 14-1 mark. He had 2,138 yards as a junior and Warren completed another 14-1 run.
Coach Steve Tutsie took over for Kevin Wright before Evans' senior year, and the Warriors quickly set their sights on being the first Indiana program to win four titles in a row.
"Coach Tutsie did a great job," Clayton remembered. "We really embraced the challenge of trying to make history."
Evans vividly recalls his senior season. The Warriors went 15-0 with a No. 3 national ranking as he accounted for 372 points and led the team to an average of 48.1 a game. He averaged nearly 9 ½ yards per rushing attempt.
"We wanted to go out with a bang," Evans said. "We didn't want to be the (Warren) team that didn't win."
In the 2006 state championship game, Evans rushed for 201 yards and three touchdowns as Warren defeated Carmel, 35-14.
"It kind of put a crown on an illustrious three-year run for him," Clayton said. "To talk about Darren Evans is to talk about a true competitor who always brought his best in the biggest games."
Evans worked out this past summer at the Warren campus while he awaited a resolution in the NFL labor negotiations. He still attends some of Warren's games, and always makes sure to shake hands with old friends such as Clayton and Tutsie, who is now the defensive coordinator, as well as principal Rich Shepler. Sometimes, Evans talks to the team as a group.
When Evans was asked what he misses most about high school football, he mentioned the practices and games with former teammates. "Definitely the buddies," he said.
Clayton, who was captain on the 1995 South Bend St. Joseph's team that won the Class 3A state championship, knows that high school football can build such lasting bonds. Clayton also knows what winning that state title did for his own confidence and attitude and suggests it could do the same for others.
"It really paved the way in not only my personal life but also in my professional life," he said. "I take some of those same principles and as an educator, I share that with kids -- to dream big.
"Darren was the leader," Clayton said, referring to the 2006 Warren team. "And now those kids can take (those accomplishments) with them the rest of their lives, and it can have an effect. They know if you come together to work toward something that no one has done before, it can be accomplished."
On Friday and Saturday of this week, there will be 10 teams striving to reach similarly lofty goals at Lucas Oil Stadium.
In Class A, for example, Lafayette Central Catholic is going for its third consecutive undefeated season and state championship. In Class 2A, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers seeks its third straight title. In Class 3A, Indianapolis Bishop Chatard is looking to add to its record total of 10 state titles. In Class 4A, Indianapolis Cathedral is hunting its fourth championship in six seasons. And in Class 5A, two of the most successful programs in state history match up -- Carmel and unbeaten Penn.
Evans, who accumulated 465 rushing yards and six touchdowns in his three state championship games, knows exactly what he'd say to the players in these 2011 finals.
"Just give it all you've got," he said. "It goes by fast. It's going to be a moment you cherish forever. Win, lose or draw, you have to leave it on the field and the best will come to you."