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Tarean Folston comes back from ACL injury to contribute in senior year

| Friday, November 18, 2016

When Tarean Folston stepped onto the field at Notre Dame Stadium against Texas in early September 2015, it was supposed to be the start of a big year.

Three carries later, his season was over. A seemingly routine tackle from a Texas defensive back caused Folston to tear his ACL, forcing him out for the season.

But despite the massive setback — and despite seeing sophomore Josh Adams take over starting duties after his performances during Folston’s injury season, the senior running back has contributed in a major role since he recovered.

Folston came to Notre Dame after being named Florida’s Offensive Player of the Year by Florida Today for his senior-year performances at Cocoa High School. After a breakout, 140-yard performance against Navy, Folston saw two starts during his freshman year: against BYU, where he rumbled for 78 yards and a touchdown, and in the Pinstripe Bowl, where he ran for 73 yards and a touchdown against Rutgers.

It was the 2014 season, though, when Folston truly established himself. After a slow start that saw him rush for only 165 yards in the opening five games and briefly lose the starter’s position, Folston had 169 yards from scrimmage against North Carolina. He then ran for 120 yards against then-No.2 Florida State and 149 against Navy on his way to 889 rushing yards and 1079 yards from scrimmage for the season.

Senior running back Tarean Folston jukes an approaching defender during Notre Dame’s 44-6 win over Army on Nov. 12.Emma Farnan | The Observer
Senior running back Tarean Folston jukes an approaching defender during Notre Dame’s 44-6 win over Army on Nov. 12.

After finally establishing himself as the undisputed first-choice back on the team, Folston looked set to make a bigger impact than ever in 2015. On a highly-ranked Irish team, he looked like a player with the potential to break out nationally, and a primetime, season-opening game with Texas was a perfect opportunity to do it. Speaking on Aug. 31, 2016, Folston said he remembers being eager to showcase his talents in that game.

“I was definitely excited,” Folston said. “I’m excited for every game that we play. I was very prepared [and] excited, and I felt good at the workout before the game — because it was a night game — so we got a decent workout before the game, and I was just running around freely, ready to play ball.”

But one fluke injury early in the first quarter put an end to his hopes of contributing to the team that year. Instead, Folston watched from the sidelines as the Irish went 10-3 after spending much of the season in the hunt for the playoffs. Folston said although he was initially upset, he quickly set his sights on recovery and a return to the field.

“It took me about a week to get over it,” he said. “I was definitely sad, pouting, all of that, but it took about a week to realize that it happened, and I can’t change it. You’ve got to move on and get better; just work to get better and get healthy. So after that first week, I was ready. I was ready to get this rehab and to get back on the field as soon as possible.”

And Folston did return, just in time to have a major impact in the season opener against Texas this season. Folston rushed for 88 yards and caught one pass for 17, though he couldn’t do enough to stop the Longhorns from winning the game, 50-47. Despite an ankle injury causing him to miss two more games against Syracuse and North Carolina State, Folston has continued to make an impact when healthy, including running for 49 yards against Stanford, and 84 yards and a touchdown against Army. Folston said he was taught from a young age to make the most of limited carries, and that’s been his mantra for this season.

“You just stay hungry and stay ready — that’s what my dad always told me,” Folston said. “You’ve got to get ready. If you get in a rhythm, I’m pretty sure the coach isn’t going to just take you out, but if they do, then you’ve just got to stay ready, stay locked in on the sideline and get ready for your number to get called again.”

Folston — a Film, Television and Theatre major in the College of Arts and Letters — said he believes that despite the physical setback, he has grown significantly in the mental side of the game. A key part of that is running backs coach and former Irish running back Autry Denson, who has helped Folston keep focused on his goals.

“Coach Denson tells me to focus on one play at a time, instead of staying mad at myself sometimes,” Folston said. “That helped me out a lot. Also just being out a whole year has given me a new perspective on practice, but Coach Denson has been there the whole time, just telling me how much better I can get and things like that, and telling me things I can work on each and every day, whether it’s big or little, and just staying in my corner. He’s been doing a great job.”

Folston highlighted practice as where he believed he made the most significant growth since the injury, which he believes gave him a new perspective on the game.

“I’ve definitely got a better appreciation, not just for the game, but also for practice,” Folston said. “Practice is probably harder than the actual game — practice is where it starts, and I really got a better appreciation for that with this mindset. And a new attitude towards working. I was working hard before last year, but I just felt like I could take it up another notch, and that’s what I’m trying to do this year. Just work, and don’t let any injuries happen because if you play scared, you’re going to get hurt.

“I’m just going to keep my head clear of all things, go out and play football.”

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About Daniel O'Boyle

Daniel O'Boyle is a senior sports writer living in Alumni Hall, majoring in Political Science. He is currently on the Notre Dame Women's Basketball, Men's Tennis and Women's Soccer beats. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Daniel spends most of his free time attempting to keep up with second-flight English soccer and his beloved Reading FC. He believes Lonzo Ball is the greatest basketball player of all time.

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