SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Few players may be appreciating the monotonous grind of spring practice more than Tarean Folston.
For the redshirt junior running back, it’s been his first opportunity to get back on the field since he tore his ACL on his third carry of last season. He wasn’t the first in that extraordinary line of Irish players to suffer significant injuries (Jarron Jones and Shaun Crawford went down during preseason camp), but his calamity was particularly unfortunate.
Folston planted to bounce outside on a routine run in the first quarter against Texas and, without contact, tore his ACL. What was supposed to be a season in which he emerged as a durable No. 1 running back — and one that perhaps propelled him to the NFL — quickly melted away into weeks and weeks of tedious rehab work. There was a certain helpless feeling that came along with being sidelined for an entire season.
“Just knowing that you’re out for the season and the season really didn’t start yet, it was real tough,” Folston said. “I was definitely down but I had to keep my head up and get over it and just start working from then on. That’s what I did.”
Folston, along with Crawford and Drue Tranquill, forged a bond over rehabbing from their respective torn ACLs. Each attracked their recovery process and are participating in spring practice six or seven months after going down.
But that rash of injuries, in a sort of macabre way, helped motivate Folston to work through the recovery process.
“It just kept rolling. It was bad,” Folston said. “I felt for everybody. That kind of made me tell myself, you gotta set yourself, you gotta do this for you, your team and your family. You can’t just keep sitting around and being sad. That kind of helped me along the way.”
With 1,000-yard rusher C.J. Prosise — who exploded during Folston’s absence — off to the NFL, Folston’s return is important for an Irish offense looking to build off last year’s powerful success. Perhaps the biggest area in which the Cocoa, Fla. native will help is short-yardage situations, where the Irish were perplexingly poor a year ago.
One in every three of Notre Dame’s rushing attempts in obvious running situations — so third/fourth-and-short — didn’t gain the necessary yardage for a first down (58th among FBS teams). And one in every five of Notre Dame’s runs was stuffed for no gain or a loss (87th). Part of those issues probably can be traced to the inexperience of Prosise and quarterback DeShone Kizer, so having a more seasoned quarterback and natural running backs in Folston and Josh Adams could improve those numbers.
Folston’s injury also paved the way for Adams — who set a program record for most running yards as a freshman — to emerge. Adams would’ve been third on the Irish running back depth chart, but quickly asserted himself with a 26-yard touchdown run against Texas while Folston was coming to terms with the severity of his injury in the Irish locker room.
“I definitely see a positive that came out of it,” Folston said of his injury. “I’m glad Josh got a chance to get on the field, Dexter (Williams) here and there. And just thinking back to my freshman year, that really helped me as a college football player. And Josh got a tremendous amount of reps and started a few games. I feel like that helped us out a lot and I’m glad they got that time to play.”
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Running backs coach Autry Denson said Folston is “trending, maybe, ahead of schedule” in his recovery process. He’s not expected to be full strength until the summer, when he and Adams can train their collective focus on building off 2015’s offensive success.
But Folston is grateful for the work he’s doing right now. This is his third year of spring practice at Notre Dame, and he’s not taking it for granted — which he thinks will help him once the 2016 season begins in Austin.
“Just going into practice with that appreciation — not saying I never had it, but you know, day in and day out knowing that I’m getting the opportunity to do what I love and not sitting at a table rehabbing just watching or on the sideline, freezing, just watching,” Folston said. “I actually contributed to the team. That’s definitely a boost toward my game. Anybody who goes out with that appreciation will dominate, and that’s what I’m looking to do.”