Notre Dame offered Josh Adams when his recruitment was more regional than national, back when the junior running back at Central Bucks South High School, located a couple hours north of Philadelphia, was viewed as much as an athlete as a pure running back.
When Adams tore his ACL midway through his junior season, Notre Dame could have walked away to restart its running back hunt. Instead, Brian Kelly gave the green light to take Adams’ commitment the next summer, months before Adams retested that knee in an actual game.
“We were just really confident in a lot of the things that we had seen prior to, and then we were just sold on him as a person and knew that the surgery had gone well,” Kelly said. “We just felt like all the boxes were checked and it wasn't a real big gamble for us with him.
“Just the way he took care of himself all the way down to his family, his mom, his siblings. There were just so many other factors there that … I never felt like we were taking a risk.”
Instead, Adams turned into an investment with a quick dividend. His two touchdowns last weekend against Texas were the most by an Irish freshman since Darius Walker in 2004 against Michigan. Adams finished with five carries for 49 yards and those two scores, cementing his spot as Notre Dame’s No. 2 back with Tarean Folston (ACL) lost for the season.
How Adams rose up the ranks this quickly, beating out four-star classmate Dexter Williams and reducing Justin Brent to a potential red-shirt, has as much to do with his football IQ as his dogged rehab.
Adams returned as a prep senior to post 208 carries, 1,623 yards and 25 touchdowns – already committed to Notre Dame at that point – before arriving in South Bend last summer. He’s since picked up the offense, arguably better than any freshman back under Kelly, even if his play last weekend was out of necessity more than choice.
Beyond the natural rushing skills, Adams has proven a capable blocker against the blitz, which will factor again this weekend at Virginia and defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta.
“If you could use this analogy, it's just seeing the birds lined up, and then all of a sudden they move. And it's being able to pick them up after the snap,” Kelly said. “Josh does a pretty good job of recognizing the movement after the snap.
“That's generally the learning curve for the younger players. They're good on the board. They can see it and draw it up, but then they move. They weren't in that position after the snap. So some take a little more time with that concept of pre-snap, post-snap. Josh seems to pick that up, and it's just his ability to learn quicker than others.”
Notre Dame didn’t make Adams available to reporters this week, which might fit his reserved personality. Adams never savored the spotlight that came with recruiting, even when Notre Dame, Stanford and Michigan fought for his attention. He might be getting used to it in South Bend, where that glare will increase.
Kelly said new starter CJ Prosise can take 20 carries a game with Malik Zaire good for another 10, with his maximum workload at 15. Should the Irish repeat the Texas performance of 52 carries – the single-game high under Kelly – that leaves about 20 carries spread among the rest of the roster.
Adams showed enough Saturday to earn more than five of those.
“I knew he was gonna be a good running back, I didn’t know he was going to perform like he did today,” said Ronnie Stanley on Saturday. “I’m very happy for him. The humbleness of that kid, he never talks, just does his job.”