Sophomore running back has lived the ups and downs already in a short time at Notre Dame

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune
Running back Jadarian Price was the talk of spring practice last season as a true freshman.

There’s still nothing there. 

There’s no rough draft as to what he might/could/should be. No big-picture outline coming into focus on where all this is headed. Nothing etched in so much as a No. 2 pencil let alone in stone for someone who arrived an early freshman enrollee in January 2022 with big plans but whose next game for the Irish will be his first game. 

Now 15 months into his college football career, Notre Dame running back Jadarian Price remains a blank canvas. 

Price has met with local media twice as many times (two) as games played (none). There are others in his class who have played more and done more. Others who’ve shown they’re ready. Others who have a seat on a college football bus that Price plans to board. Soon. 

Price was on track to be one of those bus guys, maybe be the offense’s version of cornerback Benjamin Morrison, a freshman All-American. He was the talk of last spring. Subtract quarterback Tyler Buchner, who was barreling toward his first career start at Ohio State and Marcus Freeman, who was learning all about life as the head coach at Notre Dame, and Price may have been the story. 

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He was that good that early. The way he ran. The way he cut and found an extra gear to run away from would-be tacklers and toward a big role. The way he picked everything up at a time when freshman don’t pick up much of anything. The way he walked into Notre Dame Stadium for the spring game, ran around for a couple hours and walked out with 116 total yards on 17 touches and a score. 

Who’s that guy? 

Keep an eye on Price, the consensus said, because the kid from Denison, Texas surely was worth watching. The former four-star recruit who rushed for 1,903 yards and 18 touchdowns his senior season in high school who still should’ve been in high school, had made this college stuff look easy. 

Long before fellow running backs Logan Diggs and Audric Estime announced their 2022 arrivals with 821 yards and four touchdowns and 920 yards with 11 scores, Price was in the mix to mirror those numbers. He didn’t look last spring like a freshman. He didn’t run like a freshman. At the time, when he was the hot name, he didn’t even realize how hot. 

“Last spring was just me keeping my head straight, staying humble and just getting a feel of things and getting better,” Price said. “I didn’t know I did that well and caught that many eyes and attention.” 

Price figured he had played well enough to earn a few carries come the regular season. He was on track for more. Price was starter good. Difference-maker good. He was fine with easing his way into the offense, but his skills were too good. So was he. 

“I knew that it was my time to show — ‘this team knows what I can do, let’s show everyone else what I can do, show people back home what I can do,’” he said. “That was a big thing for me, realizing this is meant for me and I can do this.” 

He did none of it. 

The closest Notre Dame running back Jadarian Price got to the field in 2022 was as a spectator while rehabbing from an Achilles injury.

One plant of a foot, and it was over

Price saw it all end in a post-workout conditioning session in late June. Everything he worked for, everything he’d done in the spring, gone with one left foot plant in the turf during a footwork drill. 

“It was really just a routine day,” Price said late last week. “There was just a lot of stress built up. I just took a couple cuts and then …" 

Price didn’t finish the sentence. He didn’t need to finish the sentence. If you know Notre Dame football, you know what happened. You know what it meant. Price tore his left Achilles tendon. Instantly, he knew. Instantly, everybody knew, even a group of interior defensive linemen who were working on the opposite end of the field. 

Uh-oh, that was an Achilles. 

“It was loud,” Price said. “I tried to get up and I couldn’t walk.” 

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Instead of challenging for a starting spot, instead of being the kind of impact player he showed in spring, it was surgery to reattach the tendon. It was rehab. It was a scooter to get around campus and then crutches and then a spectator spot on the sideline. It was a long nine months just to get back to the same spot Price had sat in the previous spring and talked of a possible featured role. 

Now, there’s determination, but there’s also unknown. What can 2023 be for Price? He can’t say for sure. He’ll do some stretching when it’s time for the Irish to stretch. He’ll get his body warmed up. But that's the extent of his spring practice. Sometimes, he’ll slide on his Under Armour cleats and slip over to the Irish Athletic Center just to move up and down the field and feel that feel of running with the ball in the open field. Just like riding a bike. 

Suffer an Achilles injury, and it’s as much a mental comeback as it is physical. The minute it happened, Price accepted that it wouldn’t be weeks until he returned, it would be months. An eternity for a football player. For a freshman. Even now, nine months post-op, he’s not all the way back. Recovery from that injury is immensely long and laborious and, honestly, painful. 

“Just knowing that it’s over a half a year for me to be able to get back on the field, it wasn’t a good thing,” Price said. “It’s a long journey.” 

Price feels he’s close to 100 percent. But 100 will have to wait until fall camp, when he can take a handoff, put that left foot in the FieldTurf again, make a cut and just go. 

“When that time comes, I know that I’ll be ready,” he said. “Sure, there might be a couple nervous jitters or whatever. That’s how everyone is when they line up for that first play.” 

Diggs and Estime are now established. They’re going to play. A lot. Last year, both were the same blank slate that now is Price. Under running backs coach Deland McCullough, there’s always room and work for more than two backs. Price talked of Diggs and Estime being a devastating 1-2 punch. 

He wants that punch this season to be 1-2-3. Can Price be the three? 

“Don’t know; we never got to that point,” McCullough said. “JD knows he’ll have an opportunity to come in and show what he’s got. Physically, it looks like he can, but you’ve got to get out there and do it.” 

With all four years of eligibility still remaining, Price refuses to skip steps to get there. He won’t look ahead to the summer when he can get back even more of his speed and quickness and show out in workouts. He won’t think about fall camp and the big prove-it that beckons. He won’t think of a specific game or a moment that awaits during the regular season. 

He's changed his jersey number — from 20 to 24 — but the same humble, hard-working mindset that he first showed last spring hasn't changed. He worries only about today.

“As long as I take care of now, the future will handle itself,” Price said. “Honestly, I think people have a lot to look forward to. Our running back room could be even better this fall.” 

Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.