Challenge Accepted

One bad half in the desert and Tarean Folston's reaction to it remains relevant as Notre Dame's top runner prepares for his junior season.

He was far from the only member of the Irish that didn't answer the early bell inside Sun Devils Stadium last November. And he was far from the only would-be blocker to whiff and/or suffer a moment of confusion in the face of relentless Arizona State blitz pressure that forced five Irish turnovers in a 55-31 defeat.

But Tarean Folston will be remembered for that undeniably bad day -- one that resulted in a second-half benching -- for one important reason:

It left an indelible mark.

"I think when you're looking at Tarean Folston, what I'm most impressed with is that when we challenged him as a complete running back, he took that challenge and he stepped up," said Kelly two games and 240 Folston rushing yards after his benching in the desert. "As you saw, he was in the game late, and he did an outstanding job in pass protection, and that was the piece that was missing for him. He did a great job.

"And then tough-yard running. He's a guy that's developed as a sophomore to the point where he's put himself in a position to get the primetime carries and be in the game late."

As noted by Irish Illustrated's Pete Sampson in this review of Notre Dame's most efficient rushers during the Kelly era, Folston's efforts last fall ranked as the second-best in terms of competitive game impact over the head coach's five-year tenure in South Bend.

After fighting for carries with both Cam McDaniel and Greg Bryant early, Folston's breakout effort vs. North Carolina (169 combined yards, 3 touchdowns) in mid-October left no doubt who the team's top 'back would be for the season's second half. Thereafter, any perceived competition among the trio was more message board fodder than a practice week reality.

"He saw a void that was there. It was kind of a lingering void," said Irish assistant head coach Mike Denbrock late last season. "It wasn't that it was a negative, but there was a void with someone taking the reigns of the job and saying, 'I'm going to be the guy.'

"As much as we may want them to be ready to do that, or step into into any role that we need them to fill, until they're ready to realize it's their time, it's hard to see it (come to fruition)."

Competition from his classmate Bryant awaits Folston this spring, summer, and (it is to be hoped) through the fall, but there's not doubt he's the man heading into the spring clubhouse.

"Hey man, I can do it all," said Folston half-jokingly following the aforementioned win over the Tar Heels, a game in which he caught a career-best five passes out of the backfield. "You give me the ball, I'm going to make things happen."

After sharing carries for the first five weeks of 2014, Folston turned the team's three-headed backfield monster into a (more productive) solo act. His appearances in our film review Top 10 and honorable mentions spikes accordingly.

Games 1-5: McDaniel (48 carries, 171 yards); Folston (42 carries, 165 yards); Bryant (39 carries, 188 yards)

Games 6-13: Folston (133 carries, 724 yards), McDaniel (29 carries, 107 yards); Bryant (15 carries, 101 yards)

-- Top 10 Outings: Purdue, North Carolina (MVP), FSU, Navy, Northwestern, Louisville
-- Honorable Mention: LSU
-- End-Season Ranking: No. 6 (Day, Smith, Fuller, Luke, Schmidt, Folston, Rochell, Stanley, Golson, Riggs)
-- (My) Ranking Entering Spring 2015: No. 7 (Smith, Stanley, Day, Fuller, Rochell, Luke, Folston…) Top Stories