When Tarean Folston limped off the field after his third carry of the season, few knew what would happen next. The junior running back’s season was finished. But it spawned giant years for C.J. Prosise and Josh Adams, turning Prosise into a third-round draft pick and Adams into the most prolific freshman runner in school history.
That big year could’ve been Folston’s. Behind an elite offensive line, the Florida native was primed to be the leading man in the Irish backfield, with a breakout season all but guaranteed.
But injuries happen. And after working his way back into shape during spring practice and returning to a depth chart that all of a sudden has some young competition, 2016 is a chance to make up for lost time.
5’9.5″, 214 lbs.
Senior, No. 25, RB
Notre Dame beat out Auburn on Signing Day, waiting a few uncomfortable extra hours for a fax from Folston after he went on a late-January visit. Folston was Florida’s 4A first-team All-State running back, a do-everything high school player.
The Under-Armour All-American had offers from Oregon, Florida, Florida State and a few dozen other programs before picking Notre Dame in early January.
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.
Junior Season (2015): His season was cut short after just three carries (for 19 yards) against Texas, lost for the year with a torn ACL. Earned a medical redshirt.
WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR
There’s no doubt in my mind that Folston wouldn’t put up monster numbers last year if he stayed healthy.
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.
My biggest question for Folston has also been one of his biggest strengths—the space between his ears. For two seasons, Folston’s vision and Football IQ have been excellent. The natural ability he displayed—too often in flashes—made him the envy of a depth chart filled with talented runners.
But coming back from a knee injury is different. And Folston needs to be able to cut loose with absolute conviction and get up the field, because breakaway speed has never been the power of his game.
The depth chart Folston returns to is a different beast than the one he left. Adams has the heft to run between the tackles and the speed to hit a home run. Dexter Williams is greatly improved. Even Justin Brent is an envious No. 4 back.
But Folston is an NFL running back. His versatility, ability to catch the ball in space, and make defenders miss likely didn’t go anywhere.
This is Notre Dame’s leading ball carrier in 2016. That may be a bold statement. Or it could turn out to be an obvious one after we see Folston ripping through Texas and Nevada.
Still, this is a leap of faith considering we only saw brief glimpses of Folston is spring football, donning a non-contact jersey in the Blue-Gold game. And because of the season Adams put together in 2015. But Brian Kelly believes too much in his veteran running back and knows his value to this offense. With a running game that’ll likely be the strength of the attack, putting the ball in Folston’s hands early and often can’t be a bad plan.
I’m still betting that Josh Adams ends up with a higher yard-per-carry average, but I think Folston’s senior season will be his best in South Bend.
2016’s Irish A-to-Z