Notre Dame RB C.J. Prosise focused on health, not NFL future

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

C.J. Prosise’s bolt down the sideline tells three separate stories.

But first, the simple facts. When freshman running back Josh Adams broke free for a school record 98-yard touchdown run in Notre Dame’s senior day victory over Wake Forest on Nov. 14, Prosise trailed him like a shadow. Adams high-stepped through a tackle at the line, stiff-armed safety Ryan Janvion into oblivion and accelerated along the right edge from one end zone to the other.

Meanwhile, Prosise — a bystander on the Notre Dame sideline — shed his jacket and commenced a giddy chase, his fists pumping, his smile as wide as the gap between Adams and the helpless Deacon defenders.

But therein lies a shred of concern — the reason Prosise wore sweats and a grin instead of a golden helmet. The week prior, Notre Dame’s rising senior running back suffered a concussion and an upper body injury that forced him to make an early exit in the Irish win over Pittsburgh. After missing the Senior Day victory over Wake Forest, he returned briefly in the Shamrock Series win over Boston College, before exiting again with a high ankle sprain that forced him to miss the season-ending loss at Stanford.

As CFP No. 8 Notre Dame (10-2) prepares to meet CFP No. 7 Ohio State (11-1) in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1, the status of its star senior running back remains a lingering concern.

“I’m feeling good,” Prosise said at the team’s Echoes 15 awards show on Friday. “I’m just getting back to healthy right now. Hopefully I’ll be back on the practice field in finals week (this week), getting back out there and ready to go.”

Prosise, who has been wearing an air cast to protect his injured ankle, began running last week, hopes to practice this week and feels confident he’ll contribute in Notre Dame’s season finale.

But the future, however promising, can’t erase the time he’s missed.

“It was definitely difficult,” Prosise says of the two games he watched from the bench. “It’s still difficult, not being able to go out there and play the game that I love. Every day I’m excited to be out there. I’m always just happy to be a part of this team.

“But I’m also happy to see my young guys go out there and do their thing, get their opportunity to step up and make big plays for this team. That’s really what it’s all about. It’s not really what I do here. It’s what I do to help the guys below me so we can continue our success in the future.”

That selflessness — the joy radiating as he ran after Adams — is the second story in his sideline sprint. Considering that he was a Senior Day scratch, Prosise could have sulked, and few would have blamed him.

Instead, he dubbed that unlikely moment his favorite of the season.

“He just had a concussion. It’s like, ‘Stop running. We need you back for the next week,’” Adams recalled. “That’s the big bro right there. When he scores, we do the same thing. That just shows you how we are as a group.”

Added head coach Brian Kelly: “That room is really close. You can tell that they all are great kids and they pull for each other. I think that is this team — Team 127. You can’t have a ‘next man in’ unless you have that environment where guys are pulling for each other. I think that’s what makes this a special group.”

It takes more than that, however, to make a special player. And in his sideline jaunt, regardless of the circumstances, you saw the burst that has separated Prosise from the pack.

After previously playing wide receiver and running back, the 6-foot-1, 220-pound senior rushed for 1,032 yards and 6.6 yards per carry and scored 11 touchdowns in 10 games. He added 308 receiving yards and another score, consistently demonstrating valuable versatility.

That versatility is something the NFL desperately covets.

But will Prosise, who is eligible for a fifth season, answer its call in 2016?

“Right now I’m not thinking about any of that,” Prosise said, skillfully sidestepping the question. “I’m thinking about getting myself healthy and just getting ready for the bowl game.”

Prosise, who has requested a grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board, said that he will convene with his family after the season and make a decision regarding his future.

For now, Notre Dame’s ‘Next Man In’ award-winner has one more guaranteed game.

“At this point last year, it was 100 percent, I’m coming back for my fifth year,” Prosise said. “But now things are different. Circumstances change.

“But I’m still thinking about it the same way. I’m still focused on doing my job on the football field first, and whatever happens after that is what happens.”


Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame’s C.J. Prosise (20) looks to the sky in celebration after he scored on a long run from scrimmage Saturday, September 19, 2015, during the Georgia Tech-Notre Dame football game at Notre Dame Stadium. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ