For someone who isn’t necessarily renowned for possessing game-breaking speed, Notre Dame junior running back Josh Adams sure gets to places fast.
Last Saturday at Boston College, Adams officially became the 17th back in school history to reach 2,000 career yards rushing, with his 229 yards on the ground upping his total to 2,200. Furthermore, he reached the milestone on his 316th carry — the fastest it has ever been achieved at the school.
The previous standard was held by the iconic and College Football Hall of Fame member George Gipp, who achieved the feat way back in 1920 with his 323rd career attempt.
With 443 yards rushing this year, Adams also ranks fifth nationally. Per our research, his total after the first three games to open a season are the most at Notre Dame since 1980, when Phil Carter had 499. On the last of those carries, Carter suffered a deep thigh bruise during a 254-yard personal effort in a hard fought 26-21 win at Michigan State that sidelined him several weeks.
It promises to be another physical contest this Saturday night for Adams and Co. in a different Michigan State contest. Last year the Spartans easily won the battle in the trenches in their 36-28 win at Notre Dame while out-rushing the Irish 260-57. Adams was limited to 29 yards on 12 carries, while returning Spartan backs L.J. Scott and Gerald Holmes combined for 198 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Such disparity again could lead to another defeat.
Through three games, Adams has carried 56 times, while no other Irish running back has had more than 12. His 175 snap counts so far this season easily eclipse the 51 by sophomore Tony Jones Jr. and 17 by junior Dexter Williams.
Fortunately, last weekend’s 49-20 win over Boston College allowed Adams to rest a little more. After taking an amazing 78 snaps in the 20-19 loss the week prior versus Georgia, Adams’ count was reduced to 47 against the Eagles while sitting out the fourth quarter. Adams might have been able to surpass the 262-yard single-game record at Notre Dame set by Julius Jones versus Pitt in 2003, but for the long run, no pun intended, preserving Adams’ health is more vital.
“We're very cognizant of how we practice him, making sure that he gets the proper work, that he's sharp when we get to Saturday,” said Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly. “It's really incumbent upon us to do a great job of preparing him — but understanding that he's got to feel really good when we get to Saturdays, and then Saturdays let your best players play.”
In other words, Adams’ work begins to taper off as the week progresses. That’s not been easy to swallow for someone such as Adams who prides himself on an indefatigable work ethic. That’s a primary reason why he was added as a captain this August, because of the example and leadership he demonstrated throughout the winter, spring and summer.
“I’m not a person who wants to sit out a lot because I want to try to get as many reps as possible just so I can get the look and so I can get used to the feel of preparing for the game,” said Adams, the only player in school history to rush for more than 800 yards each of his first two seasons as a freshman and sophomore.
“They pull me out sometimes — as much as I don’t want to — but that’s understandable …We’re not the Energizer Bunny, we can’t go forever. But when we’re in there, we’re going full speed, we’re going 100 percent.
“If I get taken out, it’s important that I get my mental reps in, it’s important that I still see, it’s important that I continue to help guys out, whoever is in there. Help them out if they see something they’re not used to — and I might see something new that I might not have seen if I was in. I still have to try to get that rep in.”
Adams won’t go as far as to say he craves contact in practice, but knows it’s valuable.
“I don’t think anybody likes getting hit, but you need to get that simulated at some point throughout the week and especially get it in early rather than closer to game day,” he said. “You need those as a player to get back into that feel and get prepared for the next game coming up.”
No one agrees more than his running backs coach Autry Denson, Notre Dame’s all-time leading rusher whose durability from 1995-98 highlighted his toughness.
“It absolutely helps you,” said Denson last spring of emphasizing more physical practices. “It’s a numbing factor. I understand safety and all of those things, but football is a physical game … my body just adjusts to what it feels like to carry weight, to get hit every different way. You need that — that’s a part of your preparation for the season.
“We can never be hit enough. You want to be tugged, you want to be pushed, you want to be punched — I hate when we don’t hit, I hate when we don’t ‘thud.’ My guys need it. They need to know what it’s like to squeeze the ball (the Irish running backs did not lose a fumble last year nor so far this year).”
This is why football is actually a 12-month a year operation, especially with strength and conditioning.
“This is part of the game,” Adams said. “I feel a little sore, but it’s something we prepare for in the off-season. We prepare for times like this to be able to last throughout a game, to be able to recover quickly, that’s what all our workouts and conditioning have been for, to be able to bounce back and move on to the next game.
“I’m blessed to be here and I’m just going to keep playing and getting better.”
Earlier in his career, Adams did not fully take advantage of recuperation. Experience has taught him well.
“I’m in the cold tub almost every day after practice, just trying to get my legs back for the next day, getting treatment whenever I can between classes, just coming in really quick, doing a little something with small workouts, just getting my legs moving,” he said.
Simple things such as leg curls for the hamstrings or a massage are now part of his routine.
“It’s important just to keep those muscles firing… just make sure I’m recovering the right way. It’s important to keep the muscles working, not just laying back on it and getting lazy on it.”
Shortly after Adams made the comment, Notre Dame football media relations director Michael Bertsch reminded the press that it was time for Adams to leave.
More treatment that evening was on the schedule.