Shouldering the Load: Josh Adams embraces increased responsibility on and off the field
Daniel O'Boyle | Friday, September 8, 2017
November 28th, 2015. Stanford, California.
Josh Adams is running at full speed.
He’s 35 yards from the end zone.
Nothing but green grass between him and the goal line.
The entire defense behind, chasing the ball-carrier.
That’s a situation Josh Adams, at the time only a freshman, had already seen before. He broke out for a 25-yard touchdown in his debut against Texas, a 70-yard score against Massachusetts and an FBS-season-record 98-yard tear down the sideline against Wake Forest.
It’s a situation he would see himself in again, adding two more touchdown runs of over 40 yards in 2016. Against Temple last week, Adams added a 37-yard score and another 60-yard run to his resume of big plays.
But this occasion wasn’t like those runs.
This time, Adams wasn’t the ball-carrier. Sophomore quarterback DeShone Kizer was.
Adams had broken into a sprint after holding off Stanford junior linebacker Kevin Perez for 10 yards and was preparing to block the safety coming over from the other side of the field.
Adams looks over his shoulder and careens left. Stanford junior linebacker Peter Kalambayi is catching up to Kizer. Fast.
Kalambayi dives at Kizer.
Adams dives at Kalmbayi.
Adams makes contact with Kalambayi.
Kalambayi — thrown left by the block — doesn’t make contact with Kizer.
It buys Kizer 10 more yards. Those yards don’t turn into points: With Adams off the field, Kizer fumbles on the next play. The Irish go into the half behind and lose by two points. But at the time it appeared Adams had turned a difficult 50-yard field goal attempt into a much more manageable 40-yarder in a game that proved to be decided by a last-second kick.
“I think he broke to the left a little bit and I tried to get out there and lead block,” Adams said. “I saw the guy coming from behind and I tried to chip him and get him off of him.”
Carrying the ball comes first for a running back. It’s in the job title. Blocking is an additional responsibility, where a talented runner like Adams could be forgiven for not always going the extra mile, and certainly wouldn’t be expected to deliver the way he did at Stanford Stadium.
But Adams takes additional responsibilities in his long-legged stride.
Maybe that’s why Irish head coach Brian Kelly made him a team captain just two weeks before the season began. It certainly didn’t seem to harm his on-field performance against Temple, as Adams rushed for 161 yards and two touchdowns.
“I’m just always going to be the same person that I am,” Adams said. “I’m going to keep doing the things I’m doing. I don’t think the title changes anything about who I am or how I lead on the field and how I talk to the other players. I think that each of the captains bring something different to the table and I’m just going to do my best to hold everybody to the standard I hold myself to.
“It’s definitely a blessing. I thank God that I’m in this position. I was told early on during summer workouts that I was in a position to lead a SWAT team. I wasn’t informed that I would be captain at that moment but I progressed as a leader as I tried to lead those guys. Towards the end of camp I was told the news and that was definitely exciting. It was humbling to know you have coaches who have that much trust in you and you have other guys who look up to you, so it was kind of a special moment for me, and that’s really how it was as I progressed into a more vocal leader throughout the summer and led by example as the season started.”
Rewind to that Stanford game. Why was Josh Adams the one in the backfield to begin with? For the season opener, then-junior Tarean Folston was the starter, but Folston went down after just three carries. Adams — who had just arrived on campus that summer as a three-star recruit — stepped up unexpectedly for the first time, rushing for 49 yards and two touchdowns.
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“I don’t remember much about the first touchdown, it went by pretty fast,” Adams said. “But I remember running onto the field for the first time, seeing the lights and the crowd. That was a surreal moment for me and definitely an exciting moment.”
C.J. Prosise, a senior at the time, took over as the Irish starter, but Adams continued to contribute when he was needed, with 133 yards on 13 carries against UMass highlighting his early-season performances. Against Pittsburgh, Prosise suffered a concussion and Adams became Notre Dame’s lead ball-carrier. Did he step up? How does 147 rushing yards on 20 attempts and a five-yard receiving touchdown sound?
The following week — in his first ever start for Notre Dame — Adams ran for 141 more yards, including that 98-yard rush, the longest score from scrimmage in Notre Dame Stadium history. Prosise returned for the next Irish encounter, but sprained his ankle, thrusting Adams back into the forefront of the Irish attack when the Irish traveled to Stanford for the final game of the regular season. Adams did more than block for Kizer, running 18 times for 168 yards and catching one pass for 28 yards, all against the nation’s 29th-ranked run defense. Taking on additional responsibility has been what Adams has done since the start.
“It was exciting,” Adams said. “I had a lot of older guys help me out. I had C.J., I had Tarean still on the sidelines helping me out and they made it easy for me, the offensive line made it easy, all I had to do was step into that role. It definitely helped me in my growth now.”
In 2016, with Prosise in the NFL, Adams took over as the Irish starter in the second week of the season. Even when the Irish season was far from salvageable, Adams showed no intention of quitting. The Warrington, Pennsylvania, native rushed for at least 70 yards in each of the last five games of the season, including the 41-yard rush to tie the score against Miami as well as two touchdowns against Virginia Tech and a career-high 180 yards on the ground as well as 30 receiving yards in the final game of the season against USC.
This year, Adams won’t just be team captain. With the Irish expected to focus more on the run game with Brandon Wimbush starting at quarterback, Adams is set to be more of a focal point in the Irish offense than ever before. The junior said his increased responsibility as captain has spurred him on to work harder than ever to improve his on-field performance.
“I’ve just been continuing to practice hard,” Adams said. “I’ve been pushing myself to not slack off, continuing to bring it each and every practice so I can bring it to each and every game. I understand that it’s not just about me pushing myself now. It’s about me pushing others to the standard I hold myself to.”
“I like to lead all the younger guys. We’ve got three young guys there in this running back group: [freshman] C.J. Holmes, [freshman] Deon McIntosh and [sophomore] Tony Jones Jr. I’ve been in their position so I know how it feels and I’m just trying to help those guys any way that I can. Each of those guys have things they bring to the table and I hope I can learn from them as they learn from me and [junior running back] Dexter [Williams].”
What’s the secret to Adams’s success as a runner? Brian Kelly may have let the cat out of the bag following the victory over Temple.
“He runs really fast,” Kelly said.
“I don’t know if I’m that fast,” Adams said. “I think I just get a good step on guys, but I do try to run as fast as I can.”
But Adams’s willingness to do more than the minimum for a running back doesn’t look like it’s going away. With the Irish likely to incorporate more option plays into their offense this season, taking a tackler out of the game without touching the ball could be a regular occurrence. Adams said he enjoys contributing to big plays, even if someone else gets the stats next to their name on the box score.
“It’s a lot of fun when you can just help other guys make plays and spring a big play without getting the ball,” Adams said. “That’s the really fun part for me.”
And when he does find himself carrying the ball with only open field ahead of him, he just thinks about completing his job.
“It’s kind of a, ‘Don’t get caught’ experience,” Adams said. “I’m just trying to finish the run and score a touchdown.”