C.J. Prosise wiggled his way through the gaps created by Notre Dame’s stout offensive line, found one last crease and then transitioned into another gear, leaving Georgia Tech’s defenders in the dust en route to a 91-yard touchdown scamper, the longest in Notre Dame Stadium’s history. The historic run depleted any hope that may have remained on Georgia Tech’s sideline of a comeback, and capped off a a dominant game by Prosise, gaining 198 yards on 22 carries – at a remarkable 9 yards per carry – as well as three touchdowns.
What an unorthodox path to stardom. Prosise began his career at Notre Dame as a three-star safety prospect hailing from Woodberry Forest, Va., that was unranked nationally. After his freshman season he was moved to wide receiver and given a chance at the slot position, a place he called home until cross-training at running back this spring. In what is seemingly becoming commonplace in South Bend, Prosise unexpectedly climbed the depth chart, rising from a No. 3 running back in training to starter after Greg Bryant left the program and Tarean Folston suffered a torn ACL in the early moments against Texas in week one. As inexplicable as Prosise’s emergence may be, it has come as no surprise to Prosise’s former high school coach, Clint Alexander.
C.J. has always had a team-first attitude to complement his dynamic athleticism, which is what truly made him special. Prosise’s selflessness helped him garner All-State honors as a kick and punt returner as well as being named a three-time All-State defensive back. And just how athletic was Prosise despite his lackluster recruiting profile? Alexander fondly recalls Prosise recording a video clip to send to Notre Dame.
“He did the Michael Jordan off-the-free-throw dunk, “ Alexander told Scout.com. “At that point, they [Notre Dame’s coaching staff] were pretty sold he was a great athlete.”
As improbable as his pathway may be, Prosise, despite having never played the running back position even in high school, is making a strong case to be inserted into the race for the Heisman Trophy. The Virginia native currently sits No. 5 in the country in rushing yards with 451 and is averaging 7.6 yards per carry. Should he keep this pace the first-time running back will gain 1,800 yards on the ground, obliterating the current single-season record of 1,400 yards set by Vagas Ferguson in 1979.
To put Prosise’s accomplishments to date in perspective, preseason Heisman favorite Ezekiel Elliot of Ohio State has rushed for 120 less yards despite having played only unranked opponents. Likewise, star LSU running back and preseason Heisman favorite, Leonard Fournette – who averaged over 10 yards per carry against Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl – has rushed for 64 less yards. Three weeks into the 2015 season and it appears the only thing that can slow Prosise down is a lack of a proven backup to provide C.J. with an occasional respite from his heavy workload.
The Heisman hype for Prosise should only intensify this week as Notre Dame gets set to host the 0-2 Massachusetts Minutemen. The Minutemen have one of the worst defenses in the country, surrendering an average of over 500 yards per game, 228 of which have been gained on the ground. Colorado had two 100 yard rushers in their 48-14 demolishing of UMass in week one, and nearly managed a third with backup running back Phillip Lindsay. Ideally Notre Dame will be able to unleash Prosise on the Massachusetts defense and develop a significant enough lead to give meaningful minutes to true freshmen running backs Josh Adams and Dexter Williams.
C.J. Prosise may have taken the road less traveled to the national spotlight, but there is no denying the college football world now knows his name.
Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor. He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him. Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter.