Notre Dame football: Folston gives Notre Dame a new dimension

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - Earlier this season in Colorado, everything started to click for Tarean Folston.

In one game against Air Force, the freshman running back doubled his career carries with 11 rushing attempts for 47 yards. The mental reps that morphed into practice reps finally led to opportunities on Saturday.

“From then on, it's been good rolling,” Folston said earlier this month.

In the final five games of Notre Dame’s regular season, the 5-foot-10, 207-pounder established himself as the team’s most prolific and consistent runner. During that stretch, Folston led the Irish in carries (60), yards (328), and rushing touchdowns (two).

If not for a befuddling lack of touches in the loss to Pittsburgh — only four — Folston may have run away from the cluster of backs bargaining for carries in Brian Kelly’s offense.

The level-headed rookie has taken his role in stride, riding out the early struggles and taking advantage of later opportunities. He knows these first 12 games have only set him up for what hopes to be a promising future.

“It was a good thing for me to play some this season so I can get to know what college football is like and how fast it is and get kinda used to it,” Folston said. “Coming into next season I won't be like a deer in headlights and a little overwhelmed. This season helped me out more than anything in getting me prepared for the future.”

The future came faster than expected when Folston exploded in the ninth game of the season for 140 yards and his first career touchdown, a game-winner, against Navy.

The Florida native came to Notre Dame with four-star expectations but had to wade through nagging injuries in camp and the middle of the season in order to earn carries.

“It slowed me down a lot, but then again it helped me out a lot because, while I was sitting watching practice in camp, I was learning at the same time,” Folston said. “I wasn't just sitting around and having a good time being out. I was sitting around trying to learn everything and take mental reps.”

When Folston finally felt healthy, he was still able to relate with fellow freshman running back Greg Bryant, who was sidelined with a knee injury and likely on a path to a medical redshirt.

Bryant, a five-star recruit, was struggling with a delayed start to a highly anticipated career. Most analysts figured Bryant would be the freshman back to make noise this season for Notre Dame.

“I don't worry about the next man, but I'm always there to help the next man,” Folston said. “Greg and I, we go over a lot of stuff together. We're real cool. I'm telling him the same things I was telling myself when I was injured early. I was taking mental reps. I just gave him the same advice. Just take mental reps while you're out.

It's going to come along. When you get your opportunity, just go make it happen.”

Folston’s contributions were recognized at the team’s annual award banquet when he was named the Offensive Newcomer of the Year. He finished the regular season with 71 carries for 397 yards despite not touching the ball in a third of the games.

Less than a year after signing with the Irish, Folston watched highlights of his season unfold on the big screen with his teammates.

“It was real surreal. I was real happy to see myself up there,” he said. “I'm not going to take that to the head. I'm going to stay humble and continue to grind it out and work hard and continue to try to critique my work.”

With the carries has come confidence. With more comfort, Folston will shift his focus on making a bigger impact, maybe even adding a few more catches in addition to his work in the backfield.

"I'm coming along in this offense. I'm getting to know the offense a lot better,” he said. “I want to work myself in not only at running back but at the slot also. I just want to be on the field at all times and help my team out.”

Notre Dame running back Tarean Folston (25) jumps over the line of scrimmage en route to a long run during an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, at Notre Dame. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER