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Path to the Draft: C.J. Prosise

C.J. Prosise, Jamal Golden

Notre Dame running back C.J. Prosise (20) runs past Georgia Tech defensive back Jamal Golden (4) for a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015. Notre Dame defeated Georgia Tech 30-22. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)


Part six of the series. See earlier work on Ronnie Stanley, Will Fuller, Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin and KeiVarae Russell.

No. 90 overall to Seattle Seahawks

There are traditional paths to college football stardom. And then there’s C.J. Prosise’s.

Notre Dame’s third-rounder, now a key piece to the Seattle Seahawks’ reshuffled offensive puzzle, spent a long time trying to find the right fit in the Irish football program.

But Prosise’s athleticism was never in question. That’s what ultimately led Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly to pursuing the prep school athlete, a three-star prospect with modest offers.

“It was him dunking a basketball, I saw this athlete,” Kelly said last September. “And I said, ‘I don’t know where he’s going to play, but we’ve got to take him. We’ve just got to find a place for him to play.’”

Finding that place took some time. It was a journey that started at safety, a redshirt season spent learning Bob Diaco’s defense. Then there was the transition to receiver, and a quiet sophomore season where his biggest impact came on special teams.

Prosise showed hints of being a game-changing player as a junior. He earned Notre Dame’s special teams player of the year award, earned mostly for his impressive coverage work. But his 29 catches for 516 yards averaged more per play than even Will Fuller. After Prosise took a jet sweep to the house against LSU, it was likely all anybody on staff needed to see when they decided that Prosise would spend time in the spring cross-training at running back, just in case Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant needed a break in 2015.

A break turned into a breakthrough for both the Irish and Prosise. Notre Dame got three carries from Folston and Bryant last season, proving the move of Prosise to the backfield a brilliant one.

And after slowly finding his fit in the defensive backfield or at receiver, Prosise took to running back immediately, showcasing his game-breaking skills with the ball in his hands and a quick comfort at the position, even as he was learning on the fly.

The jump to the NFL robs Kelly and his staff from finishing their job developing Prosise as a player. And make no mistake, there’s work to be done. Prosise still needs work on his pad level. His short-yardage success left much to be desired. But those things can be taught. The ability to turn five yards into fifty? Not so much.

That’s also what makes him such an intriguing prospect. With Seattle needing to replace Marshawn Lynch, the lack of wear on Prosise, not to mention the versatility in his game, add new dynamics to an offense that needs to surround Russell Wilson with playmakers. And with a degree already in hand and Folston back along with Josh Adams and Dexter Williams, Prosise thought it was the right time to jump on the chance to head to the NFL.

Is he ready? Pete Carroll sure thinks so.

“He has a tremendous range of ability,” Carroll said during rookie camp. “Going into this draft I was hoping we were going to get this guy so that we can do the things that we can do with him. I don’t mind saying this because it’s not going to take us very long to show it—he is a guy that you can line up out of the backfield as a wide receiver, and he can line up in the backfield and run the football and beat you there too.”

It took three seasons for C.J. Prosise to find his footing and one to become a star. It’s another success story for Notre Dame’s coaching staff.