NOTRE DAME, Ind. – As Notre Dame lined-up for its first offensive possession against Southern Cal last Saturday night, it seemed all but a lock that Irish running back C.J. Prosise would run the ball on first down. Prosise, who came into the game averaging roughly 7.0 yards per carry, stood astride DeShone Kizer as the quarterback waited for the snap in the shotgun.
Instead of handing the ball to Prosise, Kizer faked a handoff to the 6-foot redshirt junior and then lofted a ball deep downfield to Will Fuller. The Irish receiver caught the dart in stride and raced to the end zone for a 75-yard touchdown. The fake to Prosise drew USC’s eager safeties toward the line of scrimmage and left Fuller in a one-on-one match-up that proved no match for the All-American candidate.
Prosise finished the game with 143 yards and two touchdown runs on 19 carries for his fifth 100-yard rushing effort this season. Not bad for a running back who was supposed to serve as a complementary back this season. He has proven to be a valuable and reliable “next man in” in 2015.
That “next man in” mantra of Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly reverberates through the walls of the team’s Guglielmino Complex. It serves as both encouragement and an expectation to every Irish player who doesn’t happen to be a starter – be ready when your time comes, because when it does, you will be expected to go.
Prosise didn’t figure to get many carries coming into the season. The senior was supposed to spell incumbent back Tarean Folston, who led the Fighting Irish with 889 yards in 2014 and had totaled 1,359 yards in his first two seasons in the ND backfield.
Folston’s season didn’t get out of the first quarter of Notre Dame’s blowout win over Texas, though. He left the field with 19 yards on just three carries after suffering a season-ending knee injury.
Next man in…
Prosise, who had all of 10 career carries and 126 yards to his credit entering 2015, went to work quickly. He finished the game with 98 yards on 20 carries in his newfound role as the feature back in the Notre Dame backfield, and hasn’t let up since the prime time debut.
He’s has rushed for 922 yards through Notre Dame’s first seven games, making it all look too easy in the process. He currently ranks in the top-10 nationally in four FBS rushing categories. Prosise is 6th in rushing touchdowns (11) 9th in yards per game (131.7), 10th in yards per carry (7.15), and 10th in all-purpose yards (163).
Lofty status for a running back who had never actually played running back prior to this season.
Prosise was a scout team redshirt safety during Notre Dame’s 2012 BCS Championship Game season. He moved to receiver in 2013, but had just seven receptions for 72 yards that year and fared only slightly better last year with 29 grabs for 516 yards and two TDs.
Notre Dame’s depth at receiver, with players like Fuller, Corey Robinson, Chris Brown, and Torii Hunter, Jr.—combined with thin ranks at running back—pushed Prosise to his third position in four seasons. The running back position was even thinner entering the year after Greg Bryant, the team’s second-leading rusher with 289 yards last year, was suspended from the team over the summer.
Seven of the surprising Prosise’s 11 touchdown runs have covered at least 25 yards during his breakthrough season. He became the first Irish back to have multiple three-touchdown rushing games since 1992 when he did it against Navy on Oct. 10 and his 100 receiving yards against Clemson on Oct. 3 made him the first Notre Dame back to crack the century mark in receiving since 1970.
He is currently Notre Dame’s third-leading receiver with 18 catches for 219 yards and a touchdown. All in all, not bad for a safety turned receiver turned running back.
Not bad for a next man in.