For Tarean Folston, the 2015 season was over before it really started.
In a blink of an eye.
Three carries into the Texas game – the season-opener – Folston, who rushed for 889 yards as a sophomore and was Notre Dame’s starter over C.J. Prosise against the Longhorns – made a simple jab step.
It was a move Folston had made a thousand times before on the practice field as well on game day, only this time, the ACL gave out.
“It was just a normal cut, but it happened,” said Folston, who’s back in action this spring without full clearance. “I watched the play once or twice. I didn’t want to see it again. It’s not that it’s nasty; it’s that it didn’t look like anything.”
And that was part of the initial frustration. He didn’t take a big hit or get his leg mangled in a pile, creating a certain knee injury. It was just a normal, every-day, garden-variety cut, and just like that, his season was over.
“Just knowing that you’re out for the season, and the season didn’t even really start, it was tough,” Folston said. “I was definitely down.”
Twelve days later, Folston underwent surgery. He admitted to quite a bit of nervousness the day of the surgery. It was the first major injury, and thus, first major surgery of his career.
When his teammates took the field against Virginia without him, Folston had yet to accept his fate. Then misery gained some company, and misery was replaced by hope.
“The following week, the quarterback (Malik Zaire) went down, and then the tight end (Durham Smythe) went down, and that was after knowing before me we had a d-lineman (Jarron Jones) go down,” Folston recalled.
“It just kept rolling. It was bad, and I felt for everybody. That made me tell myself you’ve got to suck this up and do it for you and your team and your family. You can’t keep sitting around and being sad.”
So back to work Folston – and his teammates -- went.
“Me, Shaun (Crawford) and Drue (Tranquill) have this bond, but Malik was also in that pack,” said Folston, who had company in the knee injury department from Crawford and Tranquill.
“We called it the injured group, but that’s not the name no more. We’re back on the field.”
It’s on that football field that Folston has found relief.
“I appreciate practice more and more,” Folston smiled. “It’s crazy to say that, but when you’re out for that long, you start to appreciate things that you thought you wouldn’t. I do, I do (enjoy practice). It’s crazy, but I do.”
Folston remains in a “feeling out stage” with his knee.
“It’s definitely a process,” Folston said. “The first day I was like, ‘Okay, I’m out here, but should I put all this weight on this foot?’
“Then as the days and weeks have gone on, I was like, ‘Okay, I’ve got to make this cut to make a pretty good run.’ It’s getting better each and every day.”
Folston remains philosophical now that the gap between him and the running backs has been virtually eliminated. That was happening with Prosise before Folston’s injury.
Now Prosise is off to the pros, but Josh Adams – who rushed for 885 yards and a 7.1-yard average once both Folston and Prosise were injured -- has proven to be formidable competition moving forward. Sophomore-to-be Dexter Williams is no slouch either.
“I definitely see the positives that came out of it,” said Folston of the experience gained behind him in his absence. “I’m glad Josh got a chance to get on the field. Dexter played a little, too.
“Thinking about my freshman year, that helped me as a college football player, and Josh got a tremendous amount of reps and started a few games. That helped us out a lot. I’m glad they got their time to play.”
The end of the uncertainty is near. Once spring practice concludes in two weeks, Folston will have three-and-a-half months to get his knee and the rest of his body stronger.
He says his weight – 214 pounds on his 5-foot-9 ½ frame – actually is up from where it was when the ’15 season started, but is distributed more judiciously.
“What we’re trying to do is to get Folston back into as much of a competitive environment, relative to 11-on-11, teamwork…He’s got some strengths,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly.
“He runs the inside zone play very well, so when we get into some of our spread offensive sets, he’s very, very good at keeping the ball inside the tackles whereas Josh runs the outside zone extremely well.
“For Tarean, it’s been rounding himself back into the physical condition necessary to play in the offense and getting confidence to make that explosive cut. Getting past that is more where he’s focused.”
By the end of summer conditioning, he’ll be a better version of the Tarean Folston that began the ’15 season.
“I’m pretty close,” Folston said. “I’ve been making better cuts every day. I’m progressing pretty good to my standards. I’m getting back. It’s just boosting the confidence in myself to make cuts like that again. I’m almost there.”
When he does get there, Folston knows he’ll be facing formidable competition.
“Josh is a tall guy, he’s fast, he can get his pads down and get those gritty yards,” Folston said. “Dex and a couple young guys coming in will all contribute in any way possible.
“No frustration. I’ve always been a competitor. Competing is part of the game. I’m used to it. Nothing is given. I was blessed to be a starter. Now I’ve got to fight for it. At the end of the day, we’re all one team.”