Tarean Folston, C.J. Prosise compete for Notre Dame RB reps

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Practice reps can be tough to hold onto — especially when C.J. Prosise is nipping at your heels.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly called returning starter Tarean Folston “an established, national-caliber running back” at his opening press conference before the Irish started camp earlier this month. Within two weeks, Folston was watching Prosise work ahead of him with the No. 1 offense.

“You get a good practice on you, and if you’ve worked hard, you’re taking first-team reps,” Kelly said following the increased action for Prosise. “You have a subpar practice based on the standards that we set, you’re not taking first team reps. So it’s a very competitive situation, very fluid.”

Fully transitioned from wide receiver to running back, Prosise started to provide the heat Kelly wanted to motivate Folston. It cooled when a hip flexor injury sent Prosise to the sidelines for at least a week. But when Prosise returns, the competition will likely remain. Both players believe they will receive substantial work out of the backfield.

“That's the way we all compete," Folston said. “We all have to have the mindset of carrying the ball 20, 30-plus times a game. That's always the mindset."

Despite leading the Irish with 889 rushing yards last season, Folston only recorded four games of 20 or more carries.

Prosise, on the other hand, hasn’t totaled 20 carries in his entire college career. His 10 attempts last season produced 126 yards and one touchdown. Turning his opportunities into long gains has made him an intriguing weapon for the Irish offense.

Not long ago, Prosise thought the cross-training at running back would only lead to a few carries here or there while maintaining his status as a wide receiver. But with the loss of junior running back Greg Bryant, Prosise’s presence became a necessity in the backfield.

“I always had the confidence in myself that I could be a great player and I definitely knew I could be a great player here,” Prosise said. “I never thought I would be in the position I am now to be able to make plays and be a big part of this offense.”

Both players are focused on making strides in their games while pushing each other to get better. Folston’s improvements include better pass blocking and running through contact. Prosise has to develop a better understanding of working with an offensive line between the tackles.

One of the biggest reasons Folston and Prosise are expected to carry heavy loads are the big guys in front of them. Considered one of the strengths of the team, the offensive line should allow the Irish to rely on their running attack. Throw in mobile quarterback Malik Zaire and the Irish should be frequent users of ground shipping.

“Our offensive line is great,” Folston said. “They’re doing a great job blocking and staying on blocks, moving the line. It’s unbelievable.”

Folston has welcomed the competition from Prosise while also helping him adjust to the position. With a pair of freshman new to the team and sophomore wide receiver Justin Brent training at running back, there are plenty of lessons to go around.

“We work really well together being able to switch off and teaching each other and helping each other out throughout camp,” Prosise said. “The dynamics that we have are going to work really well in this offense.”

And competition isn’t new to either running back. Folston has been splitting carries since high school. Prosise spent most of last season in a rotation with Amir Carlisle as a slot receiver. When the Irish take the field on Saturdays, overall production trumps individual glory.

“We’re going to push each other to be better every day,” Prosise said. “We don’t want to settle and think either one of us have a spot. We’re fighting right now. We’re definitely battling. But we’re still also teaching each other and knowing that we’re there to help look out for each other.”

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Notre Dame running back C.J, Prosise waits between drills during Media Day, Tuesday, August 18, 2015, in South Bend. SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ
Notre Dame's Tarean Folston runs a drill during media day, Tuesday, August 18, 2015, in South Bend. SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ