UHND’s annual “Now or Never” series has explored the offensive futures of quarterback Malik Zaire and wide receivers Torii Hunter and Corey Holmes, as well as tight end Durham Smythe. This week UHND continues on the offensive side of the ball with senior running back Tarean Folston.
Tarean Folston was a highly coveted 4-star running back from Cocoa, Fla., possessing scholarship offers from in-state programs Florida and Florida State, and was a major target of the Auburn Tigers before ultimately offering his pledge to Notre Dame in January of 2013. Folston was a member of Notre Dame’s No. 2 ranked 2013 recruiting class that heavily benefited from the 12-0 regular season record of the 2012 team, but Folston credited his campus visit for pushing him over the edge.
“I went on a visit there and when I went there I just felt like I could do this for four years,” Folston said after giving his verbal commitment to the Irish. “The coaches were great; the players were great. There was a lot of energy around there, and there is a lot of people wanting to get the same goal to get to the BCS championship.”
Reason for Optimism
Irish fans should be optimistic about Folston because he has been on a fast-track to stardom since his arrival in 2013. He made an immediate impact by earning playing time as a true freshman over Notre Dame’s other heralded running back in the Class of 2013, 5-star prospect Greg Bryant. The talented Floridian rushed for 470 yards and 3 touchdowns in his first year before becoming the leading rusher for Notre Dame during his sophomore campaign, tallying 889 yards and averaging over 5 yards per carry. Folston was primed to have his true breakout season in 2015 and was averaging over 6 yards per carry in Notre Dame’s season-opener humiliation of the Texas Longhorns before suffering an ACL injury that would end his season.
Although a knee injury prevented his breakout performance, Folston has diligently worked toward his rehabilitation and is nearly physically ready to compete once again.
“It’s strength and volume for him, but he’s in all of our drill work,” head coach Brian Kelly said during the spring practice session. “I suspect that he’ll do quite a bit with us.”
Reason for Doubt
While the senior running back may have physically healed from the injury he sustained a season ago, the process of recovering from a mental standpoint is often overlooked.
“I’m not one to show weakness,” Folston said about his ACL tear before adding, “it was real tough those first couple of days. I was extremely nervous right before the surgery.”
While the surgery was successful and Folston is well on his way to recovery, learning to trust his body again will take time.
“As far as making the cuts, first day I was like, ‘OK, I’m out but should I put all this weight on this foot, this leg?”
Complicating matters, and the biggest reason to doubt Folston in 2016, is the other running back who stepped up in a big way during Folston’s absence: Josh Adams. With Folston out Adams burst onto the scene, rushing for 835 yards and 6 touchdowns while maintaining a ridiculous 7 yards per carry average, high enough to be No. 7 in the nation. Adams’ highlights included a school record-breaking 98-yard touchdown run against Wake Forest and outperforming Stanford’s Heisman finalist Christian McCaffrey (McCaffrey rushed for less than 100 yards with 3.5 yards per carry compared to Adams’ 168 yards and 9.3 yards per carry).
The strong season put forth by Adams in 2015 doesn’t even do the depth chart justice, with talented former 4-star running back Dexter Williams – who boasted scholarship offers from the likes of Georgia, Ohio State and USC – expected to take a step forward in his second year in the program.
Tarean Folston’s 2016 Outlook
With the emergence of Adams, many have downplayed Tarean Folston’s role and misconstrued Notre Dame’s backfield. While both will compete for playing time, overall Irish fans should expect a running back by committee scenario with the clichéd embarrassment of riches Notre Dame currently possesses at running back. One of the reasons Adams saw extended playing time in 2015 was due to C.J. Prosise being sidelined by injury after shouldering most of the carries in Folston’s absence, so a committee approach to keep everyone fresh would be most welcomed by Notre Dame’s coaching staff.
Despite the fact Notre Dame was unable to spell Prosise throughout much of last season due to depth concerns the Irish still managed to nearly record two 1,000 yard rushers at running back. With Pro Football Focus listing Notre Dame as having the No. 1 offensive line in the nation for 2016, and with Tarean Folston and Josh Adams both being named to the Doak Walker watch list – an annual award given to the nation’s top running back – there is no reason to believe the Fighting Irish can’t make another run at dual 1,000 yard rushers.
Expect big things from Folston this fall with Notre Dame’s ability to pound opposing defenses on the ground.
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 [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.