Tarean Folston couldn’t get over the pictures.
Walking the hallways of a medical clinic in Pensacola, Fla., last September, just weeks after tearing his right ACL against Texas, the Irish running back took notes of former Dr. James Andrews clients. Rajon Rondo. Baseball player after baseball player after baseball player. Todd Gurley.
Maybe seeing the former Georgia running back and current Pro Bowler wasn’t the exact moment Folston knew he would come all the way back from reconstructive knee surgery. It just seems that way a year later.
“I definitely didn’t know how famous (Dr. Andrews) was,” Folston said. “I was like shoot, I’m going to the man!”
Folston got in with Andrews through his father James, a former eight-year NFL linebacker. The senior was quick to point out that having the surgery done in South Bend by team surgeons would have been just fine. But there was something about learning how Andrews rebuilt Gurley that resonated.
So if there was going to be any doubt about Folston’s comeback, it ended before he went under the knife nearly 12 months ago. And Folston needed that boost after his junior season ended on its third carry. Stay healthy and Folston probably runs for 1,200-plus yards last season and is in an NFL training camp today.
Instead, he has to look back at the disbelief that came that Saturday night against the Longhorns. Team doctors knew Folston tore his ACL before halftime but the running back didn’t believe it hours later, even taking off his brace to test the leg.
“I thought it was a misdiagnosis,” Folston said. “It took me about a week to realize I gotta stop pouting, I gotta move on and get better.”
By all accounts Folston has, even if Notre Dame lists him as a co-starter with sophomore Josh Adams. Yet it’s hard to see the senior not getting the first carry after his injury comeback. It’s easy to imagine him getting the first No. 1 jersey too considering it was last worn by his late friend Greg Bryant.
Folston can admit now that he didn’t always go hard in practices before, a habit that’s been kicked entering his final season. Autry Denson sees it. So do the other running backs. Brian Kelly too.
“I think he gets it that it’s purposeful,” Kelly said. “It’s not just, ‘Hey, we’re making you do this.’ And that’s a perspective that a veteran gets.
“We don’t ask you to go out there and run around just because we want you to run around. He sees each drill and each thing that we do will have a direct effect on how he can be a better football player on Saturdays, and I think he appreciates that.”
Folston enters fall with 266 career carries for 1,378 yards and nine touchdowns. It’s easy to forget him carrying Notre Dame past North Carolina and Navy two years ago or that 120-yard night at Florida State sandwiched between. In some ways Folston’s career has been reduced to his right knee, a narrative he hopes to start to change Sunday night.
He’s looked forward to going to Austin before he knew he was actually going to Austin.
“From the get-go, I was like, ‘I hope they’re on our schedule next year,’” Folston said. “I make cuts like that all the time. I was just one of those things, it just happened. Even when I watch the film I kind of have a sense where it happened, but I just don’t see it.”
Now he’s on the verge of showing college football how he spent the past year. If all goes according to plan, Tarean Folston’s picture may soon be hanging in the offices of Dr. James Andrews.