SOUTH BEND, Ind. — When Josh Adams verbally committed to Notre Dame last summer, the Pennsylvania native hadn’t played a down of football in about a year and a half.
Adams tore his ACL and missed his junior season at Central Bucks South High School in Warrington, Pa, a northern suburb of Philadelphia. He was only rated by Rivals as a three-star recruit and the 47th-best running back in 2015’s recruiting class, but impressed Brian Kelly & Co. with a strong sophomore season and, more importantly, the right kind of demeanor.
“We were just really confident in a lot of the things that we had seen prior to, and then we were just sold on him as a person and knew that the surgery had gone well,” Kelly said. “We just felt like all the boxes were checked and it wasn't a real big gamble for us with him. … I never felt like we were taking a risk.”
“There have been other times where there's been somebody with a knee injury, and you don't know some of these other factors, that you kind of back off a bit. But in this case, because of all the other circumstances, we never felt that way.”
Adams vindicated Notre Dame’s faith in him by scything 14 yards into the end zone for a touchdown on his first career carry Saturday night against Texas. He finished his debut with five rushes for 49 yards and two touchdowns, taking on a small but significant role after Tarean Folston suffered a season-ending torn ACL in the first quarter.
That Adams came off the bench following Folston’s injury wasn’t surprising given the reps he received during a preseason camp in which Folston’s reps were limited (in an effort to keep him fresh) and C.J. Prosise missed time with a hip flexor. Adams impressed Kelly with how quickly he picked up Notre Dame’s offense, specifically its protections. His quick first step and 6-foot-1, 212-pound frame earned him those backup carries against Texas instead of fellow freshman Dexter Williams, who came to South Bend with more hype rated as a four-star prospect.
“Josh does a pretty good job of recognizing the movement after the snap,” Kelly said. “That's generally the learning curve for the younger players. They're good on the board. They can see it and draw it up, but then they move. They weren't in that position after the snap. So some take a little more time with that concept of pre-snap, post-snap. Josh seems to pick that up, and it's just his ability to learn quicker than others.”
The list of teams that offered Adams out of high school wasn’t a who’s who of powerhouse programs. Stanford and Penn State were the biggest name son there besides Notre Dame, while middling eastern teams like Boston College, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Temple were his other offers. While he had good size and athleticism for a running back, his junior year ACL injury certainly scared programs away from him.
Notre Dame, though, was confident Adams could come to South Bend and be a productive member of the program. And while it’s only one game, Adams showed against Texas the reasons why Kelly didn’t think he was much of a risk to bring in.
“We loved his makeup, and his makeup was extremely competitive,” Kelly said. “Really loved the way he competed. Just had no fear. And we saw that on Saturday when he was called, there was no hesitation when he went into the game. It was, ‘Let's go’. It wasn't — there are sometimes when a freshman's called, he kind of looks like, "Me?" He was anxious to get in there and expecting to succeed.”