Notre Dame takes measures to preserve RB C.J. Prosise

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

C.J. Prosise’s Sundays signify all that’s changed.

This time around, each one is made up of small, painful battles — of fresh bruises and aching joints from another day’s work. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound senior struggles from his bed to his car, from his car to the training table — shuffling in labored steps hardly reminiscent of Saturday’s gliding, confident strides. He is happy, and he is hurting.

Somehow, all at once.

“Last year, I’d get out of bed and feel like I could go play another game,” Prosise said with a grin. “But now I get out of bed on Sundays, and I’m creeping out of bed. I’m moving really slow and trying to get to the training room as fast as possible.”

Such is life for a workhorse running back, a season-saving dynamo that has amassed 110 carries, 13 receptions, 966 all-purpose yards and 10 touchdowns in six measly games. A year ago, he was just another wide receiver, and a few years before that, he was a safety.

Never a running back.

Then suddenly, a star.

The transition to the backfield has been jarringly fluid for Prosise, who gave the position a try in the spring before assuming starting duties when junior Tarean Folston tore his ACL in the season opener. But even if you learn the playbook, and drill technique, and watch any and all of the mountain of available film, nothing can prepare you for staggering number of tackles in six consecutive Saturdays.

That’s not taking into account all the tackles he broke along the way, or the countless shots he absorbed throughout Notre Dame’s many closed practices.

The hits add up, and they never stop hurting. But with experience, Prosise has learned to minimize them.

“I think my body has actually gotten more adjusted every week,” he said. “The first couple weeks, I was really sore — just not used to taking those hits. But now that I’m used to taking those hits — and I’m taking less of them, because I’ve learned the position a little bit better — I’m definitely recovering a lot easier.”

Prosise is taking fewer hits, too, because head coach Brian Kelly recognizes a good thing when he sees it. And while he prefers running backs get tackled during practice to prepare for the physicality and ball security necessary in games, Prosise’s longevity is the more immediate concern.

“C.J. takes a lot of hits during the season,” Kelly acknowledged. “So we've had to kind of find a happy medium there. And I think going into the seventh game, I've made the decision that C.J.'s not one of those backs that we're going to thud (make live for tackling).

“We're going to take a week off, and then maybe we can add some more thud back into our work, but we have to be careful with it.”

Prosise gets plenty of thud on Saturdays — though more often than not, he’s delivering the blow. The senior has already rushed for three touchdowns in two games this season, joining Reggie Brooks pre-Rockne Era player Frank Lonergan as the only Irish running backs to accomplish that feat. In time, he has learned to lower his pad level as well, creating a smaller target for prospective tacklers to hit.

He’s still learning, and that’s a scary prospect for opposing defenses.

If this is the prototype, what does the final product look like?

“Early in the season I would bounce stuff (outside) a little bit more,” Prosise said. “(Running backs coach Autry Denson) said, ‘Listen. Put your foot in the ground and make them catch you.’ Against Georgia Tech, that was the first time I started doing that. After that, things started opening up for me and I started feeling the game better.”

On Wednesday, Prosise was feeling fine — a hop in his step as the surging senior took his seat and was quickly dwarfed by lights and cameras.

On Sunday, the hits will negate the hop. But not for long.

“I’m still a little bit sore during Tuesday practices,” Prosise said, his signature grin returning. “But after that, I’m ready to go.”

mvorel@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame’s C.J. Prosise (20) gets brought down by Navy’s Daiquan Thomasson (26) and Lorentez Barbour (2) during the Notre Dame-Navy football game on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN