Notre Dame football: Patience is freshman back Folston’s virtue

ERIC HANSEN
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - He has no memory of his father’s seven-year NFL career as a linebacker, never saw so much as a snippet of video.

Notre Dame freshman running back Tarean Folston doesn’t have to, in order to know trying to challenge now 42-year-old James Folston physically — 6-foot-3, 236 pounds when he retired as an Arizona Cardinal 13 years ago — still isn’t a very smart idea.

Nor, the younger Folston says, is challenging James’ football wisdom.

“My dad has played a major role in everything I’ve done, everything I’ve accomplished,” the 5-foot-10, 207-pounder from Cocoa, Fla., said. “I talk to him almost every week. My dad helped me with the whole recruiting process. He’s been there the whole way, and I thank him for that.”

Perhaps the most valuable lesson the former second-round draft choice of the L.A./Oakland Raiders and former Louisiana-Monroe star taught his son is patience.

The younger Folston has been at or near the back end of Notre Dame’s original six-man running back rotation, which has been reduced to four by sophomore Will Mahone’s migration to slot receiver and a recent knee injury suffered by fellow prodigy and former Florida prep star Greg Bryant.

Folston’s 6.3 yards—per-carry average leads the team, but he has a modest 11 carries, well behind a trio of juniors — Cam McDaniel (63 carries), George Atkinson III (56) and Amir Carlisle (38) — heading into Saturday’s prime time clash (7:30 EDT; NBC-TV) between the bye-week-refreshed Irish (4-2) and USC (4-2).

“Coming in, I had a couple of great running backs in front of me, so it’s not about coming in right away and playing,” said Folston, a four-star running back who ultimately chose ND over Auburn, which made a late push.

“You have to come in and prepare yourself for the college football life. It’s a whole different lifestyle. It’s a whole different way of going about the game of football, so it’s a lot of stuff you have to learn. The one thing I always kept in mind coming out of high school is the (recruiting rating) stars don’t really mean anything. It’s about how I perform and how I project myself as a person.”

He hasn’t fallen short in that department where Irish head coach Brian Kelly is concerned, but a couple of injuries have limited his opportunities — one during August training camp and a tight hamstring that followed a 36-yard burst Sept. 28 in a 35-21 loss to Oklahoma.

“I think he’s 100 percent,” Kelly said. “He feels a lot better, and he looked really good in practice.”

But will he ever have a chance to look good in a game?

“God will set the way for you,” Folston said. “Just keep believing in him and everything will work out.”

His biggest concern at this point actually isn’t about getting more touches. It’s about just how cold it will eventually get in South Bend.

“It’s kind of scary,” he said. “I know there’s a lot colder weather coming along. I’m preparing myself for that.”

Bryant and Folston kind of help each other through those episodes — and just about everything else.

“We’re the best of friends,” Folston said. “On the football field we work together, help each other.”

In high school, they actually played against each other last August. Folston’s Cocoa team took out Bryant’s Delray Beach American Heritage squad, 25-7, in a matchup televised by ESPN. Folston, who also played safety for Cocoa, tackled Bryant twice in that game.

“It was a great experience,” said Folston, who was versatile enough to play cornerback in the Under Armour All-America Game and got an interception in the high school all-star classic last January.

“But I don’t really like to relive the high school life. I’m here in college, thinking about the future.”

And what a future it appears Folston may have ahead of him, once he gets the opportunity.

“I take pride in everything I do, whether it’s cleaning up my room, or going out and catching the football,” Folston said. “Pride is a big thing with me and I take a lot of pride in doing everything right.

“You just have to go out and be a playmaker and make plays when it’s your turn, when you get the opportunity.”

Tuitt to return in 2014?

Is Notre Dame preseason All-America junior defensive end Stephon Tuitt committing to return for a senior season?

In an interview with the Notre Dame student newspaper, The Observer, on Wednesday, Tuitt was quoted as saying that was the case.

“I’m coming back next year,” Tuitt said. “I’m a junior. I still have one year.”

But Tuitt’s mother, Tamara Bartlett, when reached by phone Wednesday night, said that the subject never came up when Tuitt was home in Lawrenceville, Ga., over the weekend. Tuitt’s long-time mentor, coach Clifford “Gator” Browning, also said he would be surprised if Tuitt had actually made that declaration at this time.

“We watched a lot of football when he was here,” Browning told the South Bend Tribune Wednesday night. “We looked at a lot of his film too, and talked about how to correct his errors. The other stuff never came up.”

Tuitt is projected to be a first-round NFL Draft choice next May if he does come out early. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., currently ranks him 14th overall among all draft prospects.

Day is ready for night game

It looked like Notre Dame sophomore defensive end might still be on the mend Wednesday.

After all, the starter, who missed all but one play the past three Irish games with a sprained right ankle, appeared to have a special shoe on his right foot, just as he did when he wore two completely different colored shoes for his cameo in the Arizona State game on Oct. 5.

Not so, Day said with a big smile after practice Wednesday night.

“Just my normal shoes,” he said. “I’m a mix/match guy.”

And Day expects to see extended playing time Saturday night against USC in his mismatched shoes.

“I’m feeling good, as close to 100 percent as I could be,” said Day, who suffered his injury late in ND’s 31-24 win over Purdue on Sept. 14. “(During the) bye week, I got back into rhythm. I kind of got my feet under myself — playing, cutting, moving in certain directions. So I felt it was a week to mentally and physically prepare to get back into it.”

Notre Dame may need to turn to the likes of Tarean Folston to establish its ground game.  SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER

WHO: Notre Dame (4-2) vs. Southern Cal (4-2)

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. EDT Saturday

WHERE: Notre Dame Stadium

TV: NBC

RADIO: WSBT (960 AM, 96.1 FM), WNSN (101.5 FM)

LINE: Notre Dame by 3