Prosise gets 1st start as Irish running back vs. Virginia
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly liked the athleticism of C.J. Prosise from the time he saw him dunk a basketball at a Virginia high school.
''I said, `I don't know where he's going to play, but we've got to take him. He's just that good of an athlete,''' Kelly said. ''Loved his personality, his makeup, great fit from a great school. We've just got to find a place for him to play.''
After beginning his career at Notre Dame at safety and then moving to slot receiver, Prosise has found a spot not only where Kelly wants him, but needs him. The 6-foot, 220-pound senior will be the starting running back when the ninth-ranked Fighting Irish (1-0) play at Virginia (0-1) on Saturday.
The plan this season was for Prosise to take a bit of the load off Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant, the top two returning rushers from last season while still playing some slot receiver. Prosise moved up to the backup running back when Bryant became academically ineligible and moved to No. 1 when Folston sustained a season-ending knee injury against Texas last week.
So now it falls on Prosise to carry the bulk of the load.
Prosise showed how much of a load he can handle with a run against Texas last week. He took the handoff, cut right at the line of scrimmage through a big hole and was 12 yards downfield before the first Texas defender got a hand on him. Three Longhorns appeared to have him stopped after a 15-yard gain, lifting him off the ground, but then the Irish offensive line began driving Prosise forward, and he carried the pile for another six yards, for a 21-yard gain overall.
Prosise described the run as fun.
''You hear people talking. You get going. You see the line run in there and hitting. There's nothing better in football to see,'' he said. ''The crowd gets going. It's a fun place for me, I know that.''
Kelly would like to see Prosise get his pads lower more consistently and carry the ball like a running back.
''We don't want to turn every run into a rugby scrum at the end,'' he said.
Kelly has been pleased, though, at how Prosise had been willing to run in traffic and take on hits, skills that some receivers transitioning to running back struggle with. Kelly was asked if Prosise's background as a defensive back might have helped with that adjustment because of his willingness to hit.
''We moved him from defense because he wasn't a big hitter. He may argue with that,'' Kelly said. ''He just plays the game fast and physical.''
Prosise is looking forward to playing in Charlottesville, about 35 miles from where he attended high school and about 90 miles from his hometown of Petersburg.
He's especially eager to see one of his best friends, Jacob Rainey, who serves as a Virginia student-coach. Rainey was a teammate of Prosise at the Woodberry Forest School, hoping to be a college quarterback. His dream was derailed when part of his right leg had to be amputated after suffering a freak injury during a scrimmage.
''It was tough on our whole team. It hurts to see something like that happen, especially to such a great guy and a great football player,'' Prosise said. ''The way he handled it was probably the best part. He didn't let it get him down.''
Rainey said he remembers working out at Woodberry when he was thinking about transferring there and his father asking him what he thought.
''I remember telling him that C.J. is the best football player I've ever been around,'' Rainey said. ''Nobody could stop him. He was just bigger, faster, stronger - he just stood out.''
Rainey said he doesn't want to see his friend have too good a game on Saturday, but he won't be cheering against him, either.
''I don't want to wish a bad day on him. As long as everyone comes out healthy and UVA comes out with a win, I'll be happy,'' he said.