Notre Dame RB Josh Adams impressed early in high school too

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Dave Rackovan has seen this all before.

It’s Labor Day, two days after freshman running back Josh Adams galloped for two touchdowns in his Notre Dame football debut, and Rackovan launches into a well-worn story with a hauntingly familiar theme. Back in 2012, Adams was a considerably skinnier sophomore, and the head coach at Central Bucks South High School wasn’t sure how quickly the varsity newcomer would be able to absorb the playbook and find the field.

Adams had talent, sure, but it would require more than a long frame and a quiet confidence to hop over upperclassmen on the depth chart.

He was asked not just to play, but also to understand.

“He comes up as a sophomore and just plays like a senior,” Rackovan recalled. “We had some practices in the spring and he just picked it up. That was the thing we were concerned about. Is he going to be ready in the cerebral part of the game? As a sophomore, he proved that here.”

A rare blend of superior athleticism and innate instincts, Adams rushed for 2,085 yards and 28 touchdowns in his sophomore season, averaging an astronomical 8.1 yards per carry.

From the first game on, he blossomed.

“He got into that first game and just dominated,” Rackovan said. “He just got better and better as it went on. You thought, ‘If this kid isn’t going to be special, if this kid isn’t going to be a Division I football player, I don’t know who could be one.’”

Now, fast-forward three years — past the torn ACL in Adams’ junior season, past a determined rehab, past a commitment to Notre Dame, past 1,623 rushing yards and 25 more touchdowns in his prep finale in 2014.

As a true freshman in South Bend, he had talent, but it would require more than a long frame and a quiet confidence to hop over upperclassmen on the depth chart.

He was asked not just to play, but also to understand.

Sound familiar?

“I wouldn’t go as far as to say that he’s at the level of some of those veterans, but he has surprisingly picked it up quicker than I thought he could,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said of Adams. “The game of football comes to him pretty easily. He picks up concepts and schemes, and when you’re talking to him about pressures and things of that nature, he has a really good sense.

“For some kids, it doesn’t come quite as easy. It just seems to click a lot easier for him.”

On Saturday night, history repeated itself. Again, Adams played earlier than expected. And again, he blossomed, rushing for a 14-yard touchdown in the first carry of his Notre Dame career.

The Notre Dame faithful may have been surprised, but Kelly wasn’t — and neither were his teammates.

“He plays great in practice every day,” senior running back C.J. Prosise said. “When he got out there and his first carry is a touchdown and he broke another (touchdown) for 25 yards, I knew, that’s just Josh. He’s going to be a really good player here.”

Or, maybe he already is. But there’s room to grow, and that starts on Saturday. With starting running back Tarean Folston lost for the season with a torn ACL, Adams and Prosise will be asked to share the load when the Irish kick off at Virginia at 3:30 p.m.

And while he won’t be there to see it, Rackovan — who also coached Virginia starting quarterback Matt Johns at Central Bucks South — will certainly be following along.

“I would literally walk down there if I could to see that game, but we have a scrimmage on Saturday afternoon,” said Rackovan, now head coach at The Hill School in Pottstown, Pa.

“I’m going to sprint from the field to get there. We’re going to DVR it, and I told my wife to be ready. We’re going to get in there and watch that game. Coaching football requires a lot of sacrifices and this is one of the biggest ones, because I would so much love to be on that field with those two guys. That’s going to be special.”

It’s special, Rackovan explains, not because Adams exceeded expectations (again), or because Johns beat out more heralded quarterback Greyson Lambert to start for Virginia in the ACC.

Not because of the way they throw and run, but what they represent.

“I’ll be honest with you, I can’t put it into words. I really can’t,” Rackovan said. “If people get to know these kids, they’re the two most humble, sincere and great teammates — both of them. They’re clones that way. If you want to see student-athletes that do it the right way, those two are it. I’m telling you.

“Those two could be poster childs for what is good about college football, and I can’t say enough about that.”

mvorel@ndinsider.com | 574-235-6428 | Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame’s Josh Adams (33) runs in a touchdown during the Notre Dame-Texas NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN