Even practice fun now for Notre Dame RB Tarean Folston

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

CULVER – Practice had always been a necessary evil in Tarean Folston’s pursuit of a football career.

Take something away from a guy for a while, and suddenly it becomes important.

A warm, sunny day on the shores of Lake Maxinkuckee Saturday was the backdrop for the reboot of the Notre Dame running back’s dream.

A season that ended almost before it started a year ago, when three carries into the opener against Texas Folston sustained a torn ACL in his right knee, impacted his attitude toward the game he no longer takes for granted.

“I’m not going to say I hated practice, but everybody goes through that mindset: ‘Dang … practice,’” Folston said. “Now, I’m like, ‘Let’s do this; let’s go.’

“Being out, watching your teammates fight against other people, it’s hard. It made me a better person. Off the field, I can look at things with a different perspective.

“When you’re out here doing things that you love, you’re always going to go hard. I’m out here working, ready to get this day right.”

Saturday came off without a hitch — almost. Early in the two-hour non-contact session, Folston was knocking off the rust on a footwork drill and tripped over one of the pads that comprised the course.

Oops.

Beyond that, he was as smooth as ever.

That trip likely won’t happen again. Footwork was a key in Folston’s breakout sophomore season (2014) when he rushed 175 times for 889 yards and six touchdowns.

Folston, academically a senior but a guy who could have another year of eligibility, plans on entering this season with a body designed to take a pounding.

“Tarean wanted to put on little more weight; felt he was too light last year,” said Irish coach Brian Kelly. “He’s that elusive inside-out runner. He’s going to be an effective player for us.”

The 5-foot-10 Folston appeared to be tightly wound at 220 pounds Saturday. If the past is a reference, that number won’t last long.

“I’m not a bad 220,” Folston said. “I want to be about (213 or 215). I came in at 217 last year. When I got hurt in the Texas game, I was 206.

“That’s why I want to keep a lot (of weight) on now, because I know how much I drop in season. I was light last year and the year before. That was a cause of some of the injuries. I’m taking a lot more banging.

“I want to go into this season with a bigger body, then be able to maintain it.”

Last spring, Folston was outfitted in a green jersey, allowing him to avoid contact. He knew in his heart he wasn’t in a place to let it rip.

All that changed Saturday.

“In the Blue-Gold Game, I was still lacking some of that mental toughness,” Folston said. “I was still kinda in pain. Right now, I’m feeling great; no (knee) braces.”

With the start of a new season and a clean slate for the running back position, Folston isn’t the least bit concerned about what could have been last year. He had a solid complementary back in C.J. Prosise, and an All-American left tackle in Ronnie Stanley to run behind.

He refused to get caught up in “woulda, coulda.” Heck, after a big year he might be in an NFL camp right now.

“A lot of people in my situation would think that,” Folston said. “That’s behind me. I’m waiting to get this season rocking and rolling.

“I’ll always be hungry; I’ve always been hungry. But this is just the first day of camp.”

When Folston went down, the Irish were fortunate to have a college-ready freshman running back behind him in Josh Adams. The 6-2, 220-pound Adams looks the part. Where Folston is the guy who can get to the outside, Adams, who rushed for 835 yards and six touchdowns on 117 carries last season, is someone who can roll up the tough yards between the tackles.

“The toughest (part of last year) was staying locked in 100 percent of the time, not just on some plays,” Adams said Saturday. “Even if I’m not going to get the ball, still doing everything 100 percent.

“We have a lot to prove to a lot of people. Stay focused and go hard. Every rep isn’t going to be perfect. You’re going to mess up sometimes.”

Notre Dame’s stable of backs is impressive. Besides Folston and Adams, sophomore Dexter Williams (5-11, 210) and freshman Tony Jones, Jr. (5-11, 215), who made the most significant rookie impression Saturday, are all good enough to make contributions.

Especially with Folston’s new attitude leading the group.

Take nothing for granted. Even practice.

Notre Dame running back Tarean Folston (white jersey) runs with the Irish quarterbacks during practice in Culver on Saturday August 6, 2016. (Tribune Photo/SANTIAGO FLORES)