When C.J. Prosise arrived at Notre Dame in the summer of 2012, it was uncertain just how Notre Dame would maximize the skill set of the exceptional athlete with raw football skills. Scout rated him a four-star talent, placing him among the nation’s top 300 players (No. 276).
As a true freshman, Prosise didn’t convince Brian Kelly and his staff that safety was his best position long-term, so after preserving a year of eligibility, the move was made to transition him from the defensive side of the football to offense. It wasn’t exactly a smooth transition as Prosise showed difficulties catching the football fired in his direction during the spring with strong-armed signalcaller Everett Golson launching fastballs in his direction.
Prosise’s first season at receiver in 2013 was a transitional year. Although he started three games and participated in all 13, he caught just seven passes for 72 yards (10.3 average) with no touchdowns and a long of 20 yards. The only game in which Prosise caught more than one pass was his two-catch, 25-yard effort in the Pinstripe Bowl against Rutgers after failing to grab a pass in any of the last three regular-season games.
But while the Irish entered the 2014 season not knowing exactly what they could get from Prosise, they emerged from it with a weapon – and frequent target of Golson’s – following his 29-catch, 516-yard, two-TD junior season. His 17.8-yard average per reception was tops on the team, due in large part to his 78-yard catch-and-run versus Navy.
He caught at least one pass in 12 of 13 games, including a six-catch, 59-yard effort against Florida State, which also included a drop on a bullet in the end zone that would have given the Irish the late lead.
Prosise became a weapon running the football as well with a 26-yard scamper against Stanford, a 12-yarder versus North Carolina, a 14-yarder against Navy, and a three-carry, 76-yard effort versus LSU in the Music City Bowl, including a 50-yard touchdown run that tied the game with 4:15 remaining.
This spring, Prosise was a regular participant in the offensive backfield, capping a strong 15-practice session with a 12-carry, 64-yard effort in the Blue-Gold Game.
Prosise becomes the player the Irish factor into game plans as a guy who must get his touches in order to maximize Notre Dame’s play-making potential. He remains a featured target in the passing attack while getting 5-to-10 or more touches in the ground game. He could develop into the big back that gets the majority of the short-yardage carries.
Other than injury, nothing short of a game plan that doesn’t accentuate his skills should prevent Prosise from entering the 2015 season as a primary focus of a multi-dimensional attack. The emergence of Greg Bryant as a consistent running back could take away some carries.
The last notable Notre Dame player to transition from another position to wideout was former Irish quarterback Carlyle Holiday in 2003-04, although he played a bit role in terms of receptions. Prior to that, Arnaz Battle went from quarterback to standout receiver in 2002 when he led Tyrone Willingham’s first Notre Dame team in receptions with 58 for 786 yards and five touchdowns.
It took until his third year in the program for Prosise to begin living up to his four-star/top 300 potential, although the position transition from freshman to sophomore season is a normal impediment to immediate impact. With two years of eligibility remaining, the speedy 225-pound Prosise should be an NFL draft target in 2016 or 2017.
Virtually any time he touched the football in 2014. His 10 rushing attempts averaged 12.6 yards. Subtract the 50-yard run against LSU and he still averaged 9.3 yards per his other nine attempts. Likewise at receiver. Subtract the 78-yard reception against Navy and he still would have led the team in yards per reception at 15.6.
“C.J. Prosise was impressive, not only his ability to break into the second level, but he showed his toughness in lowering his pads and playing physically. He’s really rounding into a guy (that the opposition is) going to fear. When you turn on the film, (they’re) going to look at him and go, ‘He scares me.’”
- Brian Kelly following this spring’s Blue-Gold Game