The Emergence: Tarean Folston
Brian Hartnett | Friday, November 7, 2014
For sophomore running back Tarean Folston, a few more carries went a long way.
As a freshman last season, the Cocoa, Florida native, who was ranked as a four-star recruit by several sources, including 247Sports, showed early flashes of his potential, including a 36-yard run in Notre Dame’s 35-21 loss to Oklahoma. But it wasn’t until the team’s ninth game of the season against Navy that Folston showed he could be a featured running back.
That game, he ran for 140 yards with one touchdown on 18 carries, nearly equal to the 22 carries he had received in the team’s first eight games. Folston said playing extensively in the Navy game allowed him to validate what he had been working on in practice.
“I guess I got into a little rhythm,” he said. “But, you know, I work hard all the time, and it showed up that game, and I try to continue to play at that ability.”
Folston kept up his high level of play throughout the remainder of the season, scoring a touchdown in his first career start against BYU and adding another score against Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl. Folston said the late-season success inspired him to carry his work ethic into the offseason.
“I just continued to work hard,” he said. “It’s just one of those things where you had a great moment, you can’t just let that go away. You’ve just got to work and try to have more moments like those.”
Folston entered this season competing for carries with senior captain Cam McDaniel and fellow sophomore Greg Bryant. He spent the first quarter of the season splitting carries in the backfield and was struggling to find success — earning just 17 yards against Michigan, 22 against Purdue and 41 against Syracuse.
But then, just as he did last season, Folston made the case to put the ball in his hands more often. And he hasn’t stopped proving his point since then, recording 98 rushing yards and three touchdowns against North Carolina, 120 yards against Florida State and 149 yards and two touchdowns last weekend versus Navy.
Irish senior quarterback Everett Golson said Folston’s newfound success has come from his development as a player.
“He’s definitely gaining that confidence — I think, just talking generally, that’s the biggest thing for a lot of these players,” Golson said. “… But I think Tarean definitely got that even from last year. This year, coming in, going out, playing good and things like that. I think he’s definitely matured in that aspect.”
But Folston said there was no single moment or realization that sparked his recent success.
“I come out with the same mentality every week — just work hard, grind it out and come out with the ‘W’ at the end of the day,” he said.
“At the beginning of the season, everyone starts off slow,” he said. “But we continue to work hard and be more of a complete team. That’s all it is, not better nor worse.”
Though he spends the majority of his time running between tackles or trying to get to the edge, Folston said his biggest strength is his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. The 5-foot-9, 209-pounder has caught 12 passes for 166 yards this season.
Others in the Notre Dame program, however, had different answers to that question.
“I think he more works with us as a running back, just reading our blocks and just helping us set up our own blocks, forcing the defender to come to us, where we want him,” Irish junior offensive lineman Ronnie Stanley said of Folston.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly praised Folston’s attention to detail in his Oct. 7 press conference.
“[Folston] does little things sometimes that don’t show up in the stat sheet that as coaches, we really appreciate,” Kelly said. “He really is an accomplished player, and he’s less about potential, and he’s more in that production, as well.”
If Folston wants to emphasize his receiving ability, he can be forgiven. Folston made receptions on both offense and defense throughout his time at Cocoa High School, recording eight receptions for 85 yards and four interceptions in his senior season. Folston, who played both cornerback and safety in the 2013 Under Armour All-America Game, said he picked up a defensive mentality from his father, James Folston, a former NFL linebacker who played for both the Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals.
“My dad, he’s all for me and whatever I want to do, and as far as giving me knowledge, he gave me knowledge both defensively and offensively throughout high school,” Folston said. “… He did help me out with a lot of defensive things, taught me a lot of stuff, but on the flip side, he helped me out with offensive stuff also.”
Although he is firmly entrenched at running back, Folston hasn’t completely lost his desire to play defense or field kicks, which he did throughout high school.
“I wouldn’t have a problem with [playing defense],” he said. “I’m here to help the team in any way possible, so if they decide to put me on defense, I’d be happy to do whatever they ask me to do — kickoffs, kick returns, anything.”
For now, Folston has been asked to claim the lion’s share of carries. But he rejected any notion that he is Notre Dame’s No. 1 running back, insisting that the offseason competition between he, McDaniel and Bryant has not yet come to a close.
“We all come out every day and just work hard,” Folston said. “… It’s always been a wide-open race, and it always will be.”
Folston said the competition among the running backs has never been anything but friendly, as the three players involved spend much time together off the field.
“When we are [together], it’s a brotherhood,” he said. “We do everything together — we usually eat together, watch film together, stuff like that.”
This spirit of friendly competition extends to Folston’s relationship with Bryant, who hails from the same region of Florida as Folston.
“… We’ve been tight since the first summer when we were roommates,” Folston said. “We’ve always had that bond, not just because we’re both running backs but because we come from the same area. We know things, and we both just want to be successful.”
Folston and the Irish will try to build on this season’s success when they travel to face one-loss Arizona State on Saturday. For Folston, who was squarely in the midst of the recruiting cycle when Notre Dame reached the BCS National Championship Game in 2013, a win against the Sun Devils would be an opportunity for him to move one step closer to the goal he’s envisioned since starting at Notre Dame.
“We’ve had the [national championship] in our mind the whole time,” he said. “… We’re stepping up to the occasion and playing big-time teams and big-time games and coming out with the ‘W.’ We just want to continue to do that and make this run for the championship.”
And if the Irish are to make such a run, they’ll need to make sure the carries for their top rusher go a long way.