Peer pressure served Autry Denson well during his prep days at Nova High School (Davie, Fla.). He hopes more of the same will aid his smallish position group as they grind through what they hope will be a longer than usual football season.
“The only approach I’ve ever had as a unit is that you have five guys, six guys – you have to prepare them all,” said Denson. “We don’t measure our success in the room by our so-called ‘starter’ we measure it by the back end of the room. If they get it, then our starter certainly gets it.”
As the Cobra Kai’s John Kreese once mused, “Second-place is no place.”
“How do you prepare to be second? There is no way to prepare to be second,” said Denson. “We have only one way to prepare, and that’s thoroughly and to the best of our abilities, so that when we’re called on, we’re ready to produce.”
Denson produced at the highest level, setting a program record with 4,318 rushing yards (1995-98) but his presence in the Notre Dame coaches room as well as the records books was made possible because a present-day friend of his also “got it” – “It” in this case, being the University and its mission.
“When I came up here on my recruiting visit, I was committed to Florida State. I had no interest in taking a Notre Dame visit,” said Denson, a 1994 Parade All-American. “But my host on the visit – and we’re still as tight as possible, *Allen Rossum – you talk about peer pressure? Negative peer pressure is legit but so is positive peer pressure. And he brought it.
“I kept hearing that it’s not a four-year decision it’s a 40-year decision. Uh-huh. But to have that come from your peers? It really resonates with you. And once I came up here and saw the place, it was a no-brainer.”
(*A 1997 senior captain, Rossum set an NCAA record for most career touchdown returns with 9, returning three punts, kicks, and interceptions for scores.)
With *50 total touchdowns to his credit, one would surmise Autry Denson’s proudest moment as a collegian came between the lines.
Instead, it conquering a moment he’d always hoped to avoid and came to dread.
“I hated public speaking. I hated it growing up,” said Denson. “So I would dodge every speaking engagement at the (weekly) pep rally. My senior year, Bob Davie came to me and said ‘Listen, this is the last pep rally, you have to go. There is no next week.’
“So I don’t know what I’m going to speak about, but I realized that two of my best friends at Notre Dame were walk-ons. I value walk-ons, because it was easy for me to practice hard and do that things I had to do – I was on TV every week. I always admired our walk-ons, because they made us who we (were).
“So I was able to introduce the walk-ons to stand up and be recognized instead of the starters. That was my best moment at Notre Dame.”
Sixteen football seasons later, Denson has a valued walk-on in his room, newly-minted scholarship runner Josh Anderson.
Awarded a scholarship this month because of three seasons of continuous hard work, Anderson provides an ideal role model for the freshmen tandem of Josh Adams and Dexter Williams.
So too, it appears, does Tarean Folston.
“I think he’s just learned to work,” said Denson of the change he’s seen in Folston since the spring. “Not that he didn’t before, but – Look, I see the guys we have, and I wish I had the physical talent they have. I pride myself on being a very hard worker. That’s one thing you can control, your effort.
“His work is now at the level I want him to be. I’ve seen him really turn the corner. We’re talking about CJ (Prosise) and the others guys, and I told Tarean, ‘That’s a compliment.’
“He set the bar so high, that when he makes a good run, we don’t get excited. That’s just 2-5. That’s Tarean. He’s become consistently consistent, which is the best compliment anyone can give you as a player.”
After two seasons growing close to former position coach Tony Alford, Folston was quick to embrace his new tutor – one he and every other runner that’s passed through the program over the last 16 years has come to recognize.
“I mean, it’s pretty cool,” said Folston of his mentor’s face, number, and name all over the program’s walls. “He knows exactly what he’s talking about. He’s been the places we want to go.”
Asked if he did a quick YouTube search for Denson’s on field exploits at the school (click here) Folston noted, “Oh yeah, oh yeah. I do my research.”
A different kind of film study awaits Folston as he efforts to improve his game.
“Across the board I have to get better,” he said. “I want to work on my strengths, too, so it all becomes second nature.”
Denson wants Folston and friends to aim even higher.
“I want them to strive to be legendary,” said Denson. “I don’t want them to be good. That’s not good enough. Greatness is old news. Take it to the maximum effort in everything you do. Be legendary.”
Follow the leader.