Here’s another way to look at Tarean Folston’s junior season.
If the running back hadn’t torn his ACL after three carries on opening night against Texas, he gets 13 games to run behind an offensive line that might finish with three first-round picks and a second-round pick (also a two-time captain). How many yards to do you think Folston would have put up? And where do you think Folston would be playing this fall if he did?
Instead, Folston’s right ACL tore in the first quarter against the Longhorns and his season was lost. His recovery was ongoing during spring practice when the coaching staff limited his work and ultimately made him no-contact during the Blue-Gold Game.
So what’s next for Folston? There’s a world of potential in the senior running back who’s next in Irish Illustrated’s A-to-Z series.
Folston reminds Notre Dame how much experience at running back can add to the efficiency of a run game, especially in the red zone. Remember, he was better than C.J. Prosise and Josh Adams when last season kicked off. Then Prosise ran himself into a third-round pick and Adams set the freshman rushing record at Notre Dame. So considering how productive both those backs were despite limited work (and behind that man-eating offensive line), it’s fair to wonder if Folston runs for 1,500 yards and is already in the NFL if healthy. Folston picks up where he left off against Texas and becomes Notre Dame’s unquestioned lead back, leading the Irish offense and playing his way into the NFL in 2017.
Folston just isn’t the same after the torn ACL and shares carries with both Josh Adams and Dexter Williams. While Folston never had elite top speed, any downgrade in his agility in short spaces could dent his game in a major way. Even if there’s no 50-yard run in the 5-foot-9 ½ , 214-pound back, he needs to at least be Darius Walker-plus between the tackles to thrive. He’s shown how effective that can be against North Carolina and Florida State two years ago. Considering how little work Folston got during spring practice, it might take all night in Austin for the senior to know how healthy his knee actually is.
There’s no perfect comparison for a running back who lost his junior year to a torn ACL, but Julius Jones sort of makes sense on paper. Jones lost his senior year to academic ineligibility and returned with a vengeance, setting the single-game rushing record against Pittsburgh and posting a 1,268-yard final season. Before that Jones was bursting with potential like Folston but could never nail down the No. 1 job. Both Folston and Jones feasted on Navy too (most Irish backs do). Each put up their first 100-yard games against Navy as freshmen. Both went over 100 yards against the Mids as sophomores too.
Development Vs. Recruiting Ranking
A four-star prospect across all four recruiting services, Folston ranked as high as the nation’s No. 66 overall prospect on ESPN.com, which put him as the country’s No. 6 running back. Scout was the lowest on Folston at No. 199 overall and No. 24 among running backs, having him as just the sixth-best back in Florida that cycle. Rivals put Folston at No. 119 overall and No. 14 among running backs. The 247 network ranked Folston at No 104 overall and No. 10 among running backs. That class had some big-time hits (Derrick Henry, Alex Collins) and some misses (Thomas Tyner, Derrick Green). While ESPN’s slotting of Folston feels too high, it’s hard to argue with a four-star ranking that falls just outside the Top 100. Then again, if Folston returns to full health this season he could be in for a banner senior year.
Folston At His Best
The temptation is to go with Florida State because he put up 120 primetime yards in Tallahassee. But Folston was a one-man wrecking crew against North Carolina a game earlier in a lower-stakes performance. He put up 169 yards rushing/receiving and a career-high three touchdowns. That’s a third of his touchdown total for his career.
Quote To Note
“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.” – Brian Kelly during spring practice