The making of a running back

Prosise showed high-level running back instincts on jet sweeps in ’14, averaging 12.6 yards per 10 carries, including a fourth-quarter, game-tying 50-yard TD run vs. LSU.

C.J. Prosise is as confident as the next guy who comes out of the prep level ranked as a four-star prospect and one of the top 300 players in the country by Scout.

When you go from safety as a freshman to wide receiver as a sophomore, and then transition to running back as a senior with two years of eligibility remaining, you wander into some unknown territory that can cloud expectations.

“I didn’t think so,” said Prosise when asked if he anticipated competing with junior Tarean Folston for the starting running back spot in 2015 when the subject of switching from receiver was broached shortly after Notre Dame’s Music City Bowl victory over LSU.

“I thought I’d be here (at running back), get some reps and be able to help out, playing receiver and doing both. Now that it’s an open spot, I’m ready to compete for it and get those reps.”

The collapse of Greg Bryant’s Notre Dame career had moved from the backburner to the forefront as winter turned to spring and spring transitioned into summer. Bryant has enrolled at a junior college in Florida following his academic suspension at Notre Dame for the 2015 season, which followed the original four-game suspension for violation of team rules.

Coupled with the graduation of Cam McDaniel from the offensive backfield – and the loss of Elijah Hood to North Carolina in the 2013-14 recruiting process – Folston and, ultimately, incoming freshman Dexter Williams and Josh Adams, represented a trimmed down version of the running back position.

Prosise was coming off a productive red-shirt junior season in which he caught 29 passes for 516 yards for a team-leading 17.8 yards per reception and a pair of scores, including a 78-yarder early in the Navy game.

More importantly, as it pertained to a potential switch to the offensive backfield, were a) Prosise’s penchant for running the football during the ’14 season, b) that 220-pound body, and c) his breakaway speed.

When Notre Dame’s coaching staff began piecing together the data, giving Prosise a shot at running back seemed a logical consequence of the dwindling running back corps.

“I didn’t really play much (running back) in high school,” said Prosise, the Petersburg, Va. product. “I moved there in the spring, and that’s pretty much where it all started. But I (had) already (learned) a lot of the offensive concepts. I knew the pass concepts; I just had to get down the run concepts.”

It’s the ease with which those principles came to Prosise that made it such a logical move, particularly after establishing a lasting impression in Nashville when his 50-yard touchdown run with 4:15 remaining tied the game and helped propel Notre Dame to a 31-28 victory over LSU.

Although running parallel to the line of scrimmage on Notre Dame’s jet sweeps, Prosise had proven to be quite proficient out of the Irish backfield. That speed – that extra gear – contributed significantly to the impression that of all the players on the Irish roster who could move from another position to running back, he was the most logical choice.

“It definitely feels natural running-wise,” Prosise said. “Something I still have to get used to is playing inside the tackles. I haven’t done that, and learning the blocking schemes is something I need to adjust to.

“I definitely picked up things a lot more once I knew I was a full-time running back. I had to get more involved with the different blocking schemes and pass protections. I think I’ve picked things up pretty well.”

Indeed, as recently as last week, Irish head coach Brian Kelly said the door to a lead role at running back is ajar despite Folston’s 263 carries for 1,359 yards and nine touchdowns in his first two seasons with the Irish.

“You get a good practice and if you’ve worked hard, you’re taking first-team reps,” Kelly said. “You have a sub-par practice based on the standards that we set, you’re not taking first-team reps. It’s a very competitive situation. Very fluid.

“We think (Prosise) has home-run kind of ability at that position where now he’ll get an opportunity to get a lot of carries.”

Prosise downplays the notion of “beating out” Folston, careful not to say something that would be offensive to a teammate and a fellow backfield brother. The fact remains Folston is a proven commodity, and when push comes to shove, particularly early in the season, the veteran Folston is the most logical choice to get the touches.

Yet Prosise’s confidence in his ability to play the new position continues to grow.

“We work really well together, teaching each other and helping each other out,” said Prosise of his tandem with Folston. “The dynamics we have will work well in this offense. We’re two different types of running backs. We push each other to be better every day. We’re battling, but we’re teaching each other and we’re there to help each other out.

“Once I get my opportunity, I’m going to make something happen with it. At this point, I knew I had (the ability to play running back) and a lot of people thought I had it. It’s that time now. Senior year. I’m old. I’ve been playing for a couple of years now.”

Prosise has been forced to downshift this week as a hip pointer has removed him from the field at least until next week. But a football season is a marathon, not a sprint, and Prosise is in it for the long haul.

“Once I saw (what happened to) Greg – and I’m sorry for what happened to him – I had in my head I’d get a lot of reps at running back,” Prosise said. “I’ve always had the confidence in myself that I could be a great player here. I never thought I would be in this position with this team to make big plays and be a big part of the offense.

“I have a lot more to go and achieve at running back. I’m still learning the position and I’m still getting better at it. But as much as they need me and as much as they want to give me the ball, I’ll be in there giving 100 percent every play.”


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