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Football: Learning curve

Jack Hefferon | Tuesday, October 15, 2013

From picking up blitzes to memorizing plays and learning time management skills, freshmen can face any number of challenges during their transition to college football.
But on an October day with highs in the low 70’s, Cocoa, Fla., native Tarean Folston complained that his toughest challenge thus far was the chilly South Bend weather.
“It’s gotten cold a few times; it’s kind of scary,” Folston said. “I know there’s a lot colder weather coming along. I’m preparing myself.”
Folston might not enjoy Notre Dame’s usual long, frigid winter, but that doesn’t mean he’s not up for a challenge. Just a few months into his Notre Dame career, the freshman running back has powered through most of those early transitions, and has succeeded in making an impact in a crowded backfield. Folston sits with fellow freshman Greg Bryant behind veteran juniors George Atkinson, Cam McDaniel and Amir Carlisle, and has had to work hard to see any action at all this season.
But for Folston, his time as an understudy has given him the opportunity to adjust and grow outside of the spotlight.
“I have a couple great running backs in front of me. It’s not about coming in right away and playing,” Folston said. “You have to come in and prepare yourself for a college football life. It’s a whole different lifestyle. It’s a whole different way of going about the game of football. There’s a lot to learn.”
His competitors at running back of all ages have eased that learning process, Folston said. All three older backs have helped him along through camp and the season, giving out their experience freely, he said. And while Bryant is out indefinitely with what Irish coach Brian Kelly called patellar tendinitis, Folston said having another back to go through freshman year with has made the adjustments that much smoother.
“[Greg and I], we’re like best friends,” he said. “On the football field we work together, we help each other… we’re really close.”
Folston’s hard work has paid off, as he quickly made inroads in the Irish backfield. After coming into the season buried in the depth chart, he has been one of the five “co-starters” listed at running back for the past several weeks. Folston has earned 11 carries so far this season but has made the most of them, amassing 69 yards and a team-best average of 6.3 yards per carry.
Much of that total came on the biggest run of Folston’s young career, with the Irish down 14-0 and reeling against Oklahoma. Out of the shotgun, the freshman took a handoff to his left and ran parallel to the line of scrimmage for nearly 20 yards. He finally found his hole as he neared the sideline, and with one hard plant step turned 90 degrees upfield, dashing 36 yards to the Oklahoma 3-yard line. Notre Dame punched the ball in two plays later, stopping the bleeding with its first score of the game.
“A long run like that always builds confidence, but after…you’ve just got to focus on the next play,” Folston said. “I just try to stay focused every day, and take the opportunities that I do get in the game and try to make something happen with them.”
Carries are still hard to come by in the Irish backfield, and Folston is now the lone freshman among Notre Dame’s four healthy backs. But if Folston can continue to run like he did against Oklahoma, he’ll ensure that he isn’t left out in the cold.
Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu