Entering 2015, there’s no denying Tarean Folston is Notre Dame’s starting running back. We can talk about C.J. Prosise’s successful spring. We can wonder when Greg Bryant is going to reach his 5-star potential. Or we can maybe just appreciate the best Irish running back since—when, Julius Jones?
Folston is coming off an impressive sophomore season, running for close to 900 yards and chipping in 190 more yards via the pass. After averaging just eight carries a game through early October, Folston took over the ground game, carrying the load the rest of the way — just like he did during his freshman season.
While there were some games where Folston disappeared, that shouldn’t be possible in 2015, with Greg Bryant reportedly suspended for four games and Prosise still likely having some pass-catching responsibilities.
So looking for a breakout star to emerge? Folston is a solid bet.
5’9.5″, 214 lbs.
Junior, No. 25, RB
Notre Dame sweat out a late visit to Auburn and Gus Malzahn applying serious pressure on Signing Day to land the four-star prospect. Folston was Florida’s 4A first-team All-State running back, a do-everything high school player.
Had offers from Oregon, Florida, Florida State and a few dozen other programs before picking Notre Dame in early January. He was an Under Armour All-American.
Freshman Season (2013): Played in 12 games, starting two as a true freshman. Nearly set a single-game freshman rushing record when he ran for 140 yards against Navy, the most since 1999. Named Offensive Newcomer of the Year.
Sophomore Season (2014): Ran for 889 yards and caught 190 yards worth of passes as the team’s leading rusher. Averaged over 5.0 yards per carry for the second-straight season. Broke 100 yards in four out of five games, coming two yards shy against North Carolina of making it five out of six.
WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR
If Folston would’ve gotten some more carries earlier in the season—or if Brian Kelly would’ve used Folston more—he’d have broken 1,000 yards. Funnily enough, I had his number of carries pegged exactly right, meaning that I expected more from not just the young back, but the offensive line.
It might sound silly, but I expect Folston to run for 1,000 yards, the first back to do that for the Irish since Cierre Wood in 2011. He’d need to get around 175 carries to do so, but that number seems reasonable with a more dynamic running game and saving some touches for Bryant (who could get 150 as well) with McDaniel picking up around 75.
For as excited as Irish fans are for Bryant’s breakout season, 2014 could be all about Folston, providing he stays healthy. With the Irish capable of moving at tempo and utilizing Everett Golson’s skills in the zone read, the Irish running game could become a very deadly weapon, especially with the depth to stay fresh.
Ultimately, it’ll be interesting to see what Folston’s ceiling is. He’s smooth enough to contribute as both a runner and receiver. He’s strong enough to be used around the goal line. But it’s hard to know what his ceiling is athletically, though he’s one of the most versatile football players on the Irish roster right now.
Ripping carries away from McDaniel and Bryant won’t be easy. But feeding the ball to a talented back like Folston will be too tempting, even for a head coach that loves throwing the ball around.
Folston will learn a ton from new running backs coach Autry Denson. In many ways, he’s got a lot in common with the Denson, the former player. Neither are a burner, though Folston has more than adequate speed. And there’s a smoothness to his game that didn’t exist in Denson’s, a grinder that was a max effort back that extended his career to Sundays. If that rubs off of Folston, all the better.
This is an NFL running back. He’ll need to continue making strides and eliminate the games where he goes hiding. But that’ll happen in a more run-oriented offense, especially if Folston gets off to the quick start Notre Dame will need from him.
I’m doubling down on Folston. I expect the biggest season from a running back in the Kelly era — and I’m pegging Folston for a 1,200 yard, double-digit touchdown 2015.
Part of this confidence comes from seeing what Mike Sanford did riding a running QB and top-shelf back at Boise State. The other part comes from seeing Notre Dame’s offensive line figure itself out this spring instead of mixing and matching into fall camp.
But mostly it comes from the natural talent I see with Folston, a back who’ll get better as he collects touches. There’s nobody to steal them from Folston to begin the season. And after he establishes himself, there’s nobody who should take them away from him, either.
So stay healthy and Notre Dame will have a running back to showcase.
THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB
Hunter Bivin, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE
Miles Boykin, WR
Justin Brent, WR
Greg Bryant, RB
Devin Butler, CB
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DL
Amir Carlisle, RB
Nick Coleman, DB
Te’von Coney, LB
Shaun Crawford, DB
Scott Daly, LS
Sheldon Day, DL
Michael Deeb, LB
Micah Dew-Treadway, DL
Steve Elmer, RG
Matthias Farley, DB
Nicco Fertitta, DB