Knee-deep in exuberance, Notre Dame's Tarean Folston looks a step ahead

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Tarean Folston avoided the game tape for a few days after his junior season crumpled last September, still convinced on some level that what had been classified as a season-ending ACL tear in his right knee would turn out to be something much less daunting.

“I didn’t feel any pain,” the Notre Dame senior running back reflected Wednesday on the injury that capped his 2015 carries at three. “I could walk on it. I took my brace off the same night and walked on it. I thought it was a misdiagnosis.

“It took me about a week to realize, ‘I’ve got to stop pouting. I’ve got to move on and get better.’ ”

The version of Folston that will be unleashed on the University of Texas football team Sunday night at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Stadium (7:30 p.m.; ABC-TV) in Austin, when 10th-ranked Notre Dame’s 2016 season debuts, is better by all accounts.

Not just where it pertains to the physical and mental hurdles in his comeback from an injury suffered against the very same opponent, in ND’s 2015 season opener.

There was an inner transformation, that paired with the ligament rehab, that has those close to ND’s leading rusher in 2014 pondering not how close Folston is to nearing his 2014 form, but how much the 5-foot-10, 214-pound Cocoa, Fla., product has advanced beyond it.

It’s a mental toughness, an appreciation for the hows and whys of practice, the diligence to the finest of details of the game — and bringing along the rest of the running back room with him.

It apparently hasn’t been lost in translation to the field.

“I've been very impressed with his camp, his elusiveness, the way he's run,” Irish coach Brian Kelly offered. “I expect him to have a significant impact in what we do offensively.”

And in a time share format that he, unlike the tag-teaming quarterbacks he plays with, truly appreciates.

Sophomore Josh Adams returns off the most prolific freshman rushing season in school history (835 yards on 117 carries) in a season in which he joined Jamaal Charles of Texas, C.J. Spiller of Clemson and Nick Chubb of Georgia as the only freshman since 2000 on Power 5 teams to average more than seven yards a carry with a minimum of 100 carries.

Classmate Dexter Williams, a mop-up option as a freshman in 2015, nudged his way into the rotation with a strong spring and no August fade, though he’s in a bit of limbo for Sunday’s opener as the university’s Office of Community Standards measures his recent arrest for possession of marijuana.

“You just stay hungry and stay ready,” Folston said of maintaining a rhythm with the anticipated personnel shuffling. “My dad always told me, ‘You don’t got to get ready if you’re already ready.’

“If you get in a rhythm, the coaches are not just going to take you out. But if they do, you just got to stay ready, stay locked in on the sideline and get ready for your number to get called again. This is like candy for me right now. I’m hyped. I’m definitely hyped.”

And that was before he found out about Kelly telling the media on Tuesday how committed to the run he supposedly is against the Longhorns, who surrendered 214 rushing yards on 52 carries to the Irish last season, with Folston playing just a cameo in a 38-3 Irish rout of Texas.

ND, led by current Seattle Seahawks rookie C.J. Prosise, went on to average 207.6 yards a game for the season and record the best season yards-per-carry mark (5.6) by an Irish team since World War II.

“It’s like a plate full of lobsters, shrimp, steak, French fries, anything you love to eat,” Folston reacted to Kelly’s assertion. “It’s like, ‘Let’s go eat.’ It’s definitely exciting.”

Texas, though, has reportedly grown up from the team that got pushed around to the tune of a No. 111 national ranking (out of 127) in rush defense last season. And by several accounts of websites amassing countdowns of the top players in the FBS, Texas sophomore middle linebacker Malik Jefferson is purported to be the best player on the field for either team Sunday night.

The Longhorns will also have twice as many returning starters (14 to 7) as do the Irish. And the anticipation of how that might congeal with an offensive makeover for the Longhorns helped coax the first home sell-out in third-year Texas head coach Charlie Strong’s watch.

“Even if their fans are not cheering for me, I’m going out there like they’re my fans,” he said of the 100,000-plus. “It’s going to be very, very interesting to see what happens. In my mind, I’m taking it all the way from the first snap. I’ve got my touchdown celebration ready.

“What I don’t think about is any injuries happening, If you play scared, you’re going to get hurt. Just keep my head clear of all things and just go out and play football.”

ehansen@ndinsider.com

574-235-6112

Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame'running back Tarean Folston (25) is set for re-entry into the Irish offense Sunday night after suffering a season-ending knee injury against Texas last September. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)