Nov. 7, 2017
“Good is not good enough. Greatness is old news. We must strive to be legendary.”
--Quotation on the whiteboard in the Notre Dame running back meeting room at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex
By John Heisler
One way or another, Josh Adams makes an impression.
Maybe it’s because of the junior University of Notre Dame running back’s humility.
Maybe it’s because of his quiet, laid-back, take-it-all-in-stride approach that belies the national platform he has created for himself.
Maybe it’s because of his work ethic, one that’s improbable to miss.
“There’s not a harder working superstar in America,” says Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long.
Maybe it’s because of his on-field burst that topped out at 22.37 miles per hour on his 77-yard touchdown sprint against North Carolina State.
Maybe it’s because of his outsized productivity--over his career but especially so far in 2017. No player in America has more 60-plus-yard runs this season.
Maybe it’s because of his team-first approach. He is anything but a self-promoter, instead most interested in talking about all the other Irish pieces that contribute to Notre Dame’s success this fall.
Maybe it’s all of that and more.
“I’ve never seen him unnerved about anything,” says Tom Hetrick, Adams’ head coach at Central Bucks South High School in Warrington, Pennsylvania.
“That’s a rare quality to have, coupled with his physical ability and his work ethic.
“That’s the mother lode.”
It seems unlikely given Adams’ quick success, but former Central Bucks South head coach Dave Rackovan (he coached Adams as a sophomore and junior) is convinced Adams actually was underrated—even as a high school sophomore in 2012 when he gained 2,085 yards.
So Rackovan decided to place a phone call to an old friend, Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.
Rackovan and Hiestand had known each other since their days together on the Penn football staff in the mid-1980s. Hiestand spent one season as the Quakers’ tight end coach in 1986. Rackovan was coaching the Penn freshman squad.
They stayed in touch over the years, and Rackovan knew that Pennsylvania was one of the recruiting states assigned to Hiestand, a Malvern, Pennsylvania, product and East Stroudsburg (Pennsylvania) graduate.
“Dave called me and said, ‘I’ve got a player for Notre Dame.’ That would have been after Josh’s sophomore year. That’s how it started,” says Hiestand.
“Dave was one of those guys where, if he said it, I knew there was a lot to it. Then I looked at the film and he (Adams) was obviously a very good player.
“He hurt his knee, but we never slowed up.
“You have colleagues over time that when they tell you something, you trust them more than others. That was Dave—he was just so adamant about Josh being special.”
That began Adams’ connection with the Irish, but his career actually goes back to his days at Tamarend Middle School in Warrington.
Warrington Township is a big series of winding, single-lane roads flanked by leafy subdivisions. Football counts a lot here.
The Central Bucks school district is the third largest in Pennsylvania. The area has produced Adams, current Irish offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey (he grew up just a handful of miles from Adams and Central Bucks South but opted to attend Penn Charter) and current Penn State starting offensive tackle Ryan Bates.
Yet another recent local product is former Central Bucks South quarterback Matt Johns. He and Adams never played together in high school, but they met on the football field in 2015 when Adams was a rookie at Notre Dame and Johns was the starting Virginia signal-caller.
Adams carried only three times that day for 10 yards, while Johns completed 28 of 39 passes for 289 yards and two scores and ran for a third TD. Ironically, the Cavaliers were done in that day by another Philadelphian, Irish receiver Will Fuller, who caught two long TD passes, including the 39-yard game-winner from DeShone Kizer (subbing for the injured Malik Zaire) with 12 seconds left.
Adams and Johns posed for a photo after the game that day in Charlottesville, later came together to Central Bucks South to speak to a current Titan squad and became workout buddies when they both were back home.
In the very beginning, Adams played guard—until one of his middle-school coaches took a long look at him and decided the biggest, fastest player on the squad belonged at running back. And it didn’t take long for Adams to make an impression.
Since Central Bucks South houses only 10th, 11th and 12th-graders, freshmen in the Warrington Township area attend middle school at either Tamarend or Unami but play on the Central Bucks South freshman squad.
Recalls Rackovan, now co-offensive coordinator at Ursinus, “There was this kid coming up. Everybody was talking about Josh. In this area there’s major competition going on between public and private schools.
“So Josh was a freshman, I’m hearing about the kid and we’re thinking maybe he’s going to go to one of the private schools. So we sat down with him and his mother.
“We were concerned about bringing him up (to the varsity team) as a ninth-grader. He was a little thin, but he could have come up and been a really good football player with the varsity as a freshman in the best league in southeastern Pennsylvania. That’s the kind of player he was.
“But when we sat down and talked with him, he says, ‘Hey, Coach, I just want to play with my friends. Don’t worry about me. I don’t want to come up. I’m not going anywhere. I want to stay with my friends.’
“That really struck me in this world where so many kids are concerned about getting a scholarship in eighth grade.
“Josh was concerned about one thing—playing ninth-grade football with his buddies.
“We had another kid up there (senior running back Dan Brown, who went on to Lehigh) who scored 44 touchdowns that year, but everybody knew what Josh would have done.
“It was very humbling to me--he was kind of a throwback kid who was not caught up in the ego thing in the world of sports as we know it now.”
Hetrick remembers that same time:
“When he rolled in as a freshman, there was a buzz around him. Everybody said, ‘You should see this freshman kid.’
“We had a senior running back (Brown) who went on to be a first-team all-state running back. But we also felt like it was a good thing to let him (Adams) dominate there (on the freshman team) and build the confidence, build the moxie.”
Hetrick, who took over as the Central Bucks South head coach for Adams’ senior campaign in 2014, and his varsity players couldn’t miss the sensation Adams created.
“The freshman games would be on Thursday afternoons, and our varsity games would be on Friday nights,” he says.
“So we would be doing our Thursday pregame walk-thru down in the stadium, and the freshman games would be up on the hill.
“You would turn your head because you’d constantly hear the crowd up there cheering. He’d have three to five touchdowns every time out. He was gashing people.
“It didn’t take long into that season for everyone to realize he was something pretty special. He definitely hit the ground running right out of the gate.
“That freshman year he was running down covering on the punt team, too. He was almost always the first guy to make the tackle.
Once he hit the Central Bucks South varsity as a sophomore, Adams made his presence felt quickly.
Remembers Rackovan, “We were playing North Penn and Josh took the opening kickoff back for a touchdown. There was a Penn State coach on the sidelines, and he says, ‘I was there for 10 minutes and I saw what I needed to see. We’re going to offer him.’”
A third-team all-state running back after scoring 28 rushing TDs in 2012, Adams helped his Titan team to a 10-2 mark and the Pennsylvania playoff quarterfinals.
But Adams’ fortunes hit a blip in early October of his junior season when he tore his ACL in a seven-point home loss to North Penn.
Adams’ mother, Apryll, remembers her son’s response:
“It was a big blow, but we never lost faith and he never lost faith or focus,” she says now.
“It put a little dent on the progression of things, kind of altered the timing of things. When you look back in retrospect, my daughter says everything happens for a reason--she says that all the time. God used that to strengthen Joshua’s character, to strengthen his faith in God and his ability to come back.
“I saw him dig deep, I saw him not waver in his determination and faith in himself and in God to know he was gonna come back.”
Apryll recalls her son’s intense approach to rehabilitation:
“The next day after he came home from the hospital he was supposed to put his leg in this machine. He had to straighten the leg and the first time he did that it must have been so painful because I’ve never seem my son cry like that as his knee bent.
“I jumped up to stop the machine and he said, ‘No, Mom, don’t stop it, I gotta do it.’ Through the pain I gained so much respect for him because he knew he had to go through it to get to where he is.”
Apryll shakes her head when she recalls what a rehab specialist at Penn told her and Josh:
“He said, ‘I’ll do the best I can, but I don’t think Josh will ever run again.’ That’s what he told us. Well, we did not receive that.
“Joshua and I looked at each other and thought, ‘What is he talking about?’ And my reaction was, not only will he run again, but we’re going to Notre Dame!
“So I said, ‘You do what you have to do, God will do what he does and Josh will do his best and it’ll be okay.’ We didn’t believe that. And I saw Joshua work so hard through the whole process, so I knew it was gonna be okay.”
In addition to Notre Dame, other schools chasing Adams included Penn State, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Stanford.
That class of running backs who were prep seniors in 2014 included Adams, Saquon Barkley (from nearby Whitehall, Pennsylvania, and now at Penn State) and Bryce Love (now at Stanford)—all of them enjoying all-star junior collegiate seasons in 2017.
Hiestand went to Central Bucks South on April 29, 2014, to see Adams work out and came away amazed at Adams’ physique.
“When you saw his frame in a T-shirt you were like, ‘Whoa.’ He was sharp, alert and his size really hit me—he was bigger in person than I expected. I did not see him run because he was still rehabbing from his knee injury, but I saw him lift and work out.”
Josh and Apryll came to campus in mid-June for Notre Dame’s Irish Invasion camp. Adams could not yet participate in the full football portions, yet no one pumped the brakes. Irish head coach Brian Kelly loved Adams’ work ethic and character traits, loved that he was such a team guy.
And Mom was bullish on Notre Dame.
“When we got here, I said, ‘This is it, Josh,’” recalls Apryll.
“Joshua wanted to go home and think about it, but I knew. I was sold. This place was a special place. I said this place was magic—but, really, it just was a very good fit for Josh.
“I’m not Catholic, but God is here. God is definitely here. That’s the point, and that was important to me.
“It’s not your traditional college experience. This is an elite institution, and he’s my baby. I felt like this was the perfect place for him.”
On June 30 Adams announced his plans to come to South Bend.
Says Rackovan: “When Harry (Hiestand) came to the school he talked Notre Dame and academics and that’s what Josh’s mother was into. She said, ‘How can I not send my son to Notre Dame or Stanford?’ But it came down to Notre Dame.”
For all of Adams’ gridiron accomplishments, the lone Central Bucks South record he shares is the single-game mark for rushing TDs (six). He’s the third on a list of recent blue-chip Titan running backs—following Eric Reynolds (he rushed for 4,772 yards in 2005-07) and Brown.
Adams came back to gain 1,623 more yards and score 25 more rushing TDs as a senior.
Says Hetrick: “We were a spread, no-huddle team. Josh had one amazing game against North Penn his senior year—and, understand, that’s the team around here, not many teams beat them and Josh beat them twice.
“His senior year he carried the ball 35 times and ran for 300-some yards against a defense that nobody does that against. But he was up to it.”
Adams earned all-league honors in track as a senior while winning the 100 (he ran 11.29) and 200 meters, high jump and 4x100 relay.
And then it was on to South Bend.
“If you do everything I ask you to do, the best you can be is average. It’s what you do over and beyond what I ask that separates you from everyone else.”
--Another quotation on the whiteboard in the Notre Dame running back meeting room at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex
Autry Denson, Notre Dame’s all-time leading ground-gainer, was the new Irish rushing back coach beginning with the 2015 season, so he and Adams essentially arrived in tandem. And theirs has been a productive marriage.
“We absolutely started together,” says Denson. “Josh came for the (2015) spring game and that was my first time meeting him. I met his mom at the hotel, and we grabbed Josh and went out running errands.
“I had to stop at Martin’s (a local South Bend grocery store chain) and run three more errands for my wife, and it was just Josh tagging along with the rest of the family.
“We were just getting to get to know each other. I had my son Autry, my son Eli and Josh was just out with the boys.”
It didn’t take long for Denson to determine that Adams brought something unique to the Irish roster.
“I had been saying from the time Josh got here that he was different from a maturity standpoint because he got it,” says Denson.
“I knew mentally Josh could handle it, and maybe the question was if he could handle it physically as a freshman. But I had a little different lens because I played as a freshman and I know it can be done. I know what I did to prepare myself so I wasn’t as worried.
“To Josh’s credit, Tarean goes down in that Texas game (the 2015 Irish season opener), C.J. ends up having to play and Josh scores two touchdowns that day.
“You think about that day–it’s his first game. Most freshmen score on their very first carry and score twice in their first game and they can’t handle that from a maturity standpoint.
“But he continued to wait until he was called on, even though he really did not play a significant amount at running back until C.J. went down with a concussion in the Pittsburgh game (the ninth game of the Notre Dame season).
“And what does Josh do? He runs for about 150 yards (actually 147 on 20 carries that day in Pittsburgh) and the rest was history.
“To me, the essence of Josh is that he didn’t get a ton of carries that first year, but he became the best player we had on special teams. Talk about a spirit of humility.
“That’s Josh Adams.”
From the football end of things, Adams seemingly has dealt with minimal adversity, dating back to his high school days.
Hetrick remembers how quickly Adams became a dominating force his first season with the Central Bucks South varsity in 2012:
“That sophomore year he lit it up. It was crazy.
“We had a big game against a rival school midway through the season, and Josh already had been tearing up the league. The head coach of the opposing team said he had something, he had a plan for dealing with Adams. He said, ‘You can’t stop him, but we have something that will contain him.’ So we were really curious.
“They come out on our first offensive play of the game and they have their two defensive ends at really wide nine techniques, three or four yards outside of the tackle. They were saying, ‘Hey, the kid is not going to get outside on us.’
“Rack (Dave Rackovan) calls stretch north. We run right at it, our guard blows up the three technique, the guy bubbles Josh in the backfield in the B gap and here comes the nine blazing at Josh. He went out and around that guy 85 yards down the opposing team’s sideline.
“They had their plan and on the first play of the game it was shown not to be all that foolproof. He had speed we don’t see around here—and that was as a sophomore.
“His ability to see it and get through there and hit it – once he accelerates and hits that second gear, that is a moving target. He has bad intentions. He’s gone.
“I know that defensive players have no fear, but I can’t imagine many of them are interested in sticking their nose in there when it’s Josh.”
Hetrick makes it a point to keep up with Adams’ collegiate doings as often as he can.
“On that long run against USC, the safety was in position and Josh just ran right by him. That’s pretty good stuff.”
Josh’s mother saw the potential in her son a while back.
“The way he played in high school I knew,” she says. “It was always his dream to play in the NFL since seventh or eighth grade--and I knew the way he played he was going to achieve his dream.
“The way he runs here (at Notre Dame) he ran in high school. The 98-yard run--he did it in high school, so I knew he was going to go all the way. He believed it and I believed it. I just knew he would continue to do the little things that would help him reach his goals.
“That first game he got in (the 2015 season opener against Texas) he was wet behind the ears. I did not even know he was going to be on the field. He scored a touchdown, but none of that fazed him. He always keeps his focus. He does his part and that’s fine with him.
“I love his humility. He’s a team player, he wants the team to win and whatever part he can play to make sure the team wins that’s what he wants to do.”
Johns is confident Adams has all the tools in the repertoire:
“He’s obviously a game-changer, he’s so explosive. He reminds me a lot of the (Pittsburgh) Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell, the big back that he is. Once he sees it, it’s over.
“I played with a running back at Virginia named Taquon Mizzell, who is now with the Chicago Bears. I worked out with Taquon for pro day and now after working out with Josh, there’s no step missed.
“They are different types of backs, but their work ethic and their explosion are similar. When you see that kind of talent it’s rare.”
NBC Sports’ Chris Simms has a ringside view of Adams from his role with the Notre Dame pregame show:
“Josh Adams has to be a serious contender for the Heisman Trophy. I really believe the reason he’s not getting hype is because his style of play isn’t sexy. He wears No. 33, he’s tall and lanky, he’s got a knee brace, and he doesn’t look as cool in his uniform as Saquon Barkley, so he’s not getting the respect he deserves. It’s bothersome to me that Barkley and Bryce Love from Stanford get so overly talked about compared to him. This is a top 10 team that is thriving because of his ability to make big plays.”
Ultimately Denson is the individual most tasked with making Adams into the player Denson and Irish fans want to see. Both Denson and Adams take analytical, intellectual approaches to the game, and they both place faith high on their list of priorities. By all accounts they seem a near-perfect match.
Even Apryll Adams admits that if her son really needs to talk to someone, Denson is most likely to receive the call.
“You never stop developing your game,” Denson says. “You’ve never completely arrived. The Bible says, ‘To those who much is given, much is required.’ The more success you have the higher, the bar goes.
“You never stop pushing that envelope. You cannot become satisfied. You understand the expectations are higher, and you push yourself more. The better you become the more you can give to your team.
“That’s Josh’s mindset, that’s my mindset. There are plenty of things I pick at and find that he can improve on. He’ll never leave here completely the way I want him to be because we’re always molding and shaping him.
“He has shown the ability get stronger. By the time we played Stanford in his freshman year he was running his best of the year. Last year (in Notre Dame’s final regular-season game) against USC he gets caught on the two-yard line by Adoree Jackson, an exceptional sprinter, or he runs away from USC on the first play of the game.”
Denson keeps a list of NFL running backs on the board in the Irish running back meeting room, and he’ll pull up video on many occasions to help his collegiate charges improve their techniques.
“I have my guys study running backs consistently,” he says. “Our kids play a lot of video games, but they don’t watch a lot of football. I make sure they watch a lot of other great backs. A reward for them when they finish early is we’ll pull up other backs (on video). I’ll let them pick a name from the list. I’m constantly looking for things those guys do well so our guys can borrow that for their games.”
Denson’s current list includes Jay Ajayi (Philadelphia Eagle s), David Johnson (Arizona Cardinals), Prosise (Seattle Seahawks), former Irish back Theo Riddick (Detroit Lions), Melvin Gordon (Los Angles Chargers), Dion Lewis and James White (New England Patriots), Devonte Freeman (Atlanta Falcons), Lamar Miller (Houston Texans) and Kareem Hunt (Kansas City Chiefs). Denson has three more names on the board in his office: Todd Gurley (Los Angeles Rams), Adrian Peterson (Arizona Cardinals) and Lamar Miller (Houston Texans).
Adds Denson, “If I had to go back and name one guy (that Adams resembles) it’s Eric Dickerson. That long stride, fluid running stuff and the effortless power. He appears to be upright at times, but people are just bouncing off him because he’s so strong.
“(Irish secondary) Coach (Todd) Lyght from day one said, ‘That’s Dickerson, that’s Dickerson.’
“Josh has seen so many guys--they get a lot of Walter Payton because I’m a big Payton fan. They can benefit from the way other guys do it. We want every tool they can have to be successful.”
Denson loves the fact there’s way more to Adams’ game than simply carrying the football.
“He can run routes, he can catch the football, he takes great pride in his pass protection. He cut two guys on Brandon Wimbush’s touchdown run (against USC), and he was so excited.
“Everybody else talks about all these longs runs, but he’s watching the game and he says, ‘Man, I did not get that cut block.’ He’s seeing it that way. Working the cut block is hard, so that was the highlight of his day.
“We’d been working on it for three weeks, and he’s a technician. He feels like the runs are fine, and physically he has no limitations. But he wants the parts of the game that a lot of people don’t even pay attention to.
“It’s important that he does it the way it’s coached. And I appreciate that—because it was important to me.”
Sports Illustrated after the USC game called Adams “the best back at South Bend in at least a decade.”
Says Hiestand of Adams: “When you’ve got this great ability, you do what God’s given you at the highest level the best you can.”
Adds Long: “We’re going to play to the strengths of our team and our line and our backs are a major strength.
“I thought we could be pretty good, but these guys are doing some special things that people haven’t seen in a long time.”
“Josh Adams is just a big-time back. My word. To see him in person is astonishing. Huge. Fast. And not a bad left side of the OL for Irish.”
--Tweet from Indianapolis Star columnist Gregg Doyel after witnessing the Notre Dame-North Carolina State game
Football coaches love to talk about the ability of a team to flip the field, to create sudden-change situations that make major impacts on games.
Adams has a history of doing that all by himself over a series of long runs that rank cumulatively with anything anyone else in football has done of late:
--As a freshman in 2015, in the final game of the regular season at Stanford, he ran 62 yards on a first-and-10 call midway through the third period to give the Irish a 29-28 lead. He finished with 168 yards, his best single-game output of that season.
--Against Wake Forest earlier that year he ran 98 yards from scrimmage in the second period for a 21-0 Irish edge.
--Against Massachusetts that year he traveled 70 yards on the fourth play of a final-period drive that made it 62-20 for the Irish.
--As a sophomore in 2016, again in the final game of the regular season, he ran 74 yards on Notre Dame’s first offensive play from scrimmage at USC. He finished with 180 rushing yards, again his best single-game production of that season.
--Earlier that year he dashed 67 yards on the fourth play of a possession against Virginia Tech.
Adams’ big-play tendencies in 2017 have been impossible to ignore:
--Against Temple, he ran 37 yards for a TD on the second play from scrimmage. Later in the opening period he added a 60-yard run on the second play of a possession. He finished with 161 yards.
--Against Boston College he ran for a career-best 229 yards on a day the Irish as a team rolled up 515 ground yards. He had first-half runs of 65 and 64 yards and had 167 yards by halftime.
--Against Miami (Ohio) he traveled 73 yards on Notre Dame’s second play. He ended with 159 yards on only eight carries.
--Against North Carolina, his 73-yard second-period run made it 14-0 for the Irish.
--Against 11th-ranked USC, his 84-yard run on the first play of a third-period possession gave the Irish a commanding 42-14 edge.
--Against 14th-rated North Carolina State he clinched the 35-14 victory with a 77-yard sprint in the third period (on the second play of a possession). No individual had run for more than 73 yards in a complete game against the Wolfpack in 2017. Adams had more yards against NC State’s sixth-rated rush defense than previous Wolfpack opponents South Carolina, Syracuse and Marshall combined (and on 49 fewer carries).
Adams leads the nation (among FBS running backs) in 2017 in yards per carry after contact (6.2 yards each), rushes of 60 or more yards (seven) and rushing yards versus ranked opponents (502).
He averages 8.69 yards per carry overall (second among running backs) and 132.3 rushing yards per game.
And yet Adams hasn’t had to be the whole show. His other tailback mates—Dexter Williams, Tony Jones Jr. and Deon McIntosh—have combined for 845 rushing yards and Wimbush has kicked in 639 more (plus 13 rushing scores). Adams’ 137 carries represent only 33.0 percent of Notre Dame’s rushing plays in 2017. The Irish as a team lead the nation at 7.04 rushing yards per attempt.
Wimbush displays continued improvement throwing the football, the Irish offensive line (led by veterans McGlinchey and all-star guard Quenton Nelson) paves the way for the running game in a major way—and Notre Dame’s defense has caught everybody’s attention in recent weeks.
Says Adams of all those long-yardage plays, “My role is to finish the play. Stay patient and when I see it, that’s when my job kicks in.
“When that hole opens and it’s usually a big one, you gotta hit it.”
Adds Kelly, “Josh has that ability to turn pedestrian plays into big-chunk plays.
“If you misfit a play, it’s a home run.”
Everyone connected with Adams raves about how hard he has worked to make himself into an elite athlete. It’s as if Adams is out to re-win his position every day of the week.
Notre Dame football performance staffers brag endlessly about Adams, and they’ve got figures to prove it.
In the hang clean high pull, Adams increased his number from 1,897 watts of peak power in August to 2,263 watts in late October (a 19.3 percent improvement).
In the squat, Adams went from 1,747 watts in August to 1,908 in late October (a 9.1 percent increase).
In layman’s terms that means Adams’ strength, power and explosiveness actually are increasing through the season.
ESPN reported that Leonard Fournette of the Jacksonville Jaguars ran at 22.05 miles per hour (fastest in the NFL in 2017) on a 90-yard TD run Oct. 8 against Pittsburgh.
Adams was tracked at 21.3 on his 84-yard dash against USC and then 22.37 on his 77-yarder versus North Carolina State.
The strength and conditioning staffers gush about what they refer to as his daily player work load.
Says Long, “Josh gets everything he works for. Every day in practice that he touches the ball he scores. The way you see him in games is the way you see him in practice—no surprises. He plays at such a high level and he’s a product of his work each and every day.”
Maybe Denson knows Adams as well as anyone at Notre Dame.
“This is who he is,” says the Irish running back coach. “He’s our hardest working player at practice. He understands that. That’s where his confidence comes.
“He enjoys practice. He doesn’t just tolerate it, he enjoys it. His success is a direct reflection of how he practices--that’s where the confidence comes from for Saturday. He does not want to skip that--that’s his recipe for success. He gets smarter and becomes more tuned into the finer points of the game so he can just go play.
“He has gotten stronger every year because of his preparation, because of what he does in the offseason. He’s learning to be a professional. He knows how to recover, he knows how to handle his business. He knows when to pick his spots.”
Johns has come to appreciate the way Adams approaches his craft:
“After his freshman year when we worked out together back here one time, he said to me, ‘I still have to earn my spot.’ That’s his mindset. He’s that humble. That’s how he thinks and that’s the reason he is as good as he is because there is no complacency.
“The hype may be big now, but none of this stuff gets to him. He’s there for his guys, he plays with a true passion for his teammates.
“He’s not worried about himself, thinking, ‘Oh, I need my 20 touches.’ He’s not doing that and it’s legit. There’s no way it’s fake, and he’s as even-keeled as it gets. He’s famous in this area and yet he’s so low key.
“We keep in touch, I shoot him a text before games. I think some of it’s just his personality. He’s not a real rah-rah guy, and he’s been that way ever since I first met him. That doesn’t surprise any of us.”
Hetrick suggests that the college-level offense run by Central Bucks South played a major role in making Adams a more well-rounded player and helped him smoothly move into the rotation at the collegiate level.
“One of the good things for Josh was that when Rack (Rackovan) came here he brought Princeton’s playbook, so there was terminology and it was precise,” says the current Central Bucks South coach.
“It was a lot more than saying, ‘We’ve got the best guy on the football field, so we’re going to toss it right and toss it left and assume he’s gonna outrun everybody.’
“We were running a college offense. There was a system in place and Josh had to learn it. So right out of the gate as a running back you need to understand your role in pass protection and all the other things.
“There were things he needed to learn to play the position in the system and then when he came to Notre Dame he probably picked up the playbook earlier because he had already done those things. The intensity was greater, but there was no huge learning curve.
“So, for his sake, we needed to teach him all those other things. We took pride in that. We put him in a position to know what he needed. A lot of running backs, if you ask them what the people in front of them are doing, might say, ‘I don’t know, making a hole for me?’ To be good at what you do, you have to understand everything and Josh did.
“His freshman year at Stanford--that was my favorite game to watch him. He carried the ball some and caught some passes. But there were three or four examples of him picking up a blitz, three or four examples of him downfield blocking for Kizer.
“That’s Josh. He did all those other things.”
Rackovan seconds that notion:
“I’ve never been around a kid who as a sophomore was such a one-rep learner. Between pass pro, running routes, all the little things that a more mature back takes years to learn, he had total understanding of the offense. He got it right now. It wasn’t just playing with the ball in his hands.
“As a sophomore in high school he understood there was more to it than that. He’s big and fast (now officially listed at 6-2 1/8 and 225 pounds) and strong—but the other parts were there, too.
“Some people would look at him and say he was too tall to be a running back.
“I don’t think people are saying that now.”
Hetrick made certain Adams understood the level of competitiveness in South Bend.
“One of the conversation we had before he went out there was that they (Notre Dame) might already have a guy that in their minds is better than you. It’s your goal to say, ‘I’m as good.’
“Every year you are there they are out there recruiting someone they hope is even better than you. You always have that in the back of your head so nobody outworks you.”
Johns remembers his first look at Adams:
“He was a twig when he was a sophomore and now he’s huge. The fact that he’s a running back is just crazy.”
“In life being right or wrong is not as important as being in control of both your emotions and responses. Think twice before you act or respond because once you do, you cannot take it back.”
--A third quotation on the whiteboard in the Notre Dame running back meeting room at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex
For all his football accomplishments, Adams may have made more impressions by how he handles himself away from athletics.
Says Rob Hyland, producer of Irish home games for NBC Sports: “Despite all of the success Josh has experienced this season, he remains the same person we met three years ago in our first production meeting. On a winning team filled with high caliber and high character student athletes, Josh Adams exemplifies what makes Notre Dame so special.”
A psychology major at Notre Dame, Adams still has a big fan club back at Central Bucks South.
“How’s our Josh doing? He looked really good on Saturday,” offered school receptionist Ann DeFusco on a recent weekday.
The mail carrier made a delivery that same morning at Central Bucks South, noticed a Notre Dame bag tag—and his eyes lit up as he began humming the “Notre Dame Victory March.”
Adds Rackovan: “I saw him in the spring and he’s the same. I text him all the time and he’s the most polite, respectful kid I’ve ever been around. He’s very grounded. He isn’t fazed by any of this and I did not think he would be.”
Adds Hetrick, “He’s the kind of kid you root for because he deserves it. Anybody who knew him would say the same thing. You can’t say enough good things about him. Everybody back here is constantly talking about him. He’s got a big fan base back here.”
Maybe his mother knows best.
“I’m excited as a mother not so much because of the runs and the records he breaks,” says Apryll.
“I’m excited about the character he maintains throughout the whole process, his humility, his integrity. As a mother, that’s the most important thing to me. As a mother, that’s what makes me proud.
“He doesn’t forget who he is and who he belongs to. That’s what I used to tell my children every day when they went out the door--don’t forget who you are and who you belong to.
“He never has been fazed by anything, and that’s why I knew he was going to be okay. He has such a focus, he just sees what he needs to do.”
Apryll has been around her son—who mentors a South Bend 10-year-old named David who is part of a foster care program--enough to not be surprised at what Irish fans are now seeing close-up firsthand.
“This is definitely exciting,” she says. “It’s confirmation that we are at the right place at the right time. It’s confirmation that God is with Joshua.
“To see the whole process unfold humbles me and brings tears to my eyes--to see my little baby mature and develop and grow into this person. It’s an awesome thing as a mother to see.
“It’s not about the football part. I told Joshua there are hundreds of thousands of talented football players who have the skill, but it takes more than skill to be where you are.
“It takes character, grounding, faith, integrity--it takes a lot of things I think he possesses.
“He’s still a kid--he’s not perfect. He can be a little defiant, a little stubborn, but most of the time he uses it the right way. He says, ‘I’m gonna get this first down.’
“When he uses those personality traits in a good way it yields good results. Even as a kid he wanted to do what he wanted to do. He had a dream and a goal, and wisdom prevailed even as a kid. He said, ‘I’m going to accomplish something.’”
Hetrick saw Adams make it easy for everyone to be around him.
“When he was here just walking the halls, he never brought attention to himself,” he says. “He did not need recognition, he did not walk around thinking people would bow in his presence. It says something about who he is.
“He just does his thing. He was a physical specimen when he first set foot on this campus as a sophomore. He was a king here on this campus—everybody knew this was a special kid.
“Yet it never changed him—it’s the craziest thing—none of it ever changed who he was. He just takes it all in stride. It’s not contrived, it’s not fake, it’s all I’ve ever seen in him. It’s just him.
“His mom is such a grounded person, and he’s mature for his years. He gets it. She showers each of her three kids with equal love and that’s how they were raised. She has had such a huge influence on him--you can see her in him. It’s pretty cool.”
And since Adams has no personal Twitter account, he’s sometimes oblivious to things others say about him.
Maxine Pullar has known Adams since he was 12, was his homeroom teacher at Central Bucks South and remains connected.
“He is one of my favorite people,” she says. “He was smart, and he was admired by so many. He had such a gift and other people were fascinated by that. Other students’ heads would turn when he would walk down the hallway. But Josh wouldn’t even notice because he was so focused. He had confidence, yet he was never arrogant.
“He seemed to do everything that he did effortlessly—he made it all look easy. And he never took anything for granted.”
Pennsylvania historically has been fertile ground for Notre Dame football, with two Irish Heisman Trophy winners coming from that state—John Lujack (Connellsville) in 1947 and Leon Hart (Turtle Creek) in 1949. Other consensus All-Americans from Pennsylvania have been guard Dick Arrington (Erie) in 1965, quarterback Terry Hanratty (Butler) in 1968, defensive lineman Mike McCoy (Erie) in 1969 and flanker Raghib Ismail (Wilkes-Barre) in 1990. Just in the last handful of years the Philadelphia area has produced 2015 All-America receiver Fuller (now with the Houston Texans) along with McGlinchey and Adams.
Notre Dame boasts a rich tradition of all-star running backs. Consensus All-Americans date back to George Gipp (1920), Four Horsemen Jim Crowley and Elmer Layden (1924), Marchy Schwartz (1930-31), Creighton Miller (1943), Emil Sitko (1948-49) and Heisman Trophy winners John Lattner (1952-53) and Paul Hornung (1955). Yet over the the last 60 years, the lone Irish consensus All-America running backs have been Nick Eddy in 1966 and Vagas Ferguson in 1979. Leading Notre Dame career rushers Denson and Allen Pinkett fell short of that designation.
Seven times Notre Dame backs have finished in the NCAA’s top 10 for rushing—dating back to Miller who led the nation in that category in 1943 and most recently Reggie Brooks who finished seventh in 1992.
Despite Notre Dame’s Heisman history, no Irish running back ever has been invited to the Heisman announcement.
Adams may change that in 2017.
How important is all this to Adams?
His mother sheepishly admits that Josh decided to take a pass on his social life in high school because he didn’t feel he had enough time to devote to school, football and a girlfriend.
“This is his life, his dream, his world,” Apryll says.
“He gives everything 110 percent, and he said, ‘I can’t give all three of those things 110 percent,’ so she had to go.
“I felt bad for her, but even now he limits things so he can stay focused.”
Josh’s midseason run—aided by Notre Dame’s successive 20-point wins over top-15 opponents (that hadn’t happened at Notre Dame since 1944)—prompted the athletic department to create a 33 Trucking Company initiative to ensure Adams was no secret. The #33Trucking hashtag produced eight-and-a-half million social media impressions in the first five days.
Notes Kelly, “It's a collective group of 33. It really is about offense, defense, special teams. It's about working together to provide the opportunity for a guy like No. 33 to be where he is.
“Somebody has got to be the lead singer. It's a great band, and that's really collectively all these guys working together.
“But there's only going to be one guy out in front, and that's Josh Adams.”
Adams was typically nonplussed about the idea—preferring to talk about the 33 angle representing not his jersey number but those 11 players each on offense, defense and special teams that all contribute to the Irish success.
Says Irish linebacker Greer Martini, “Yeah, this campaign is for Josh, but it also includes the whole team. That just goes into his character.
“Josh wouldn't want this to be just about him. He wanted it to be about the whole team. This is how it kind of all ties together.
“It just goes to show how humble the kid is. He earns everything he gets.”
Notre Dame also had some fun on its video board with a black-and-white piece set to the tune from the old “The Addams Family” hit 1960s television show.
Cue the snapping fingers.
Check the Warrington Township page on Wikipedia and under the category of “notable people” the names (in order) are Adams, Williams Waterbury (longtime local youth baseball coach), former Porsche racer Robert McCormick Holbert, actress Margaret Livingston and former NFL defensive back Bryan Scott (he played at Penn State).
It’s unlikely Adams had anything to do with his name appearing there.
But it seems almost a certainty it will remain for some time to come.
The 33Trucking.com motto is “Long drives, reliably delivered.”
That’s Josh Adams.