Jones had the opportunity to watch training from the sidelines, and saw how much easier it was to see teammates’ progress from an outsider’s perspective. But that also made it difficult to stand.
“It was hard for me to go to practice,” said Jones, now a year away from those days. “It just wouldn’t sit right if I was out there and couldn’t do anything.”
Jones was watching the season, unable to participate because that’s the fight that comes with a serious injury. The recipient group is the lowest offensive position in Maryland, but after a strong season as a freshman, Jones was unable to further cement his place in the pecking order. He had to wait. And then he had to wait longer because the novel coronavirus pandemic canceled the spring exercises and delayed the 2020 season.
Maryland’s game in the northwest signaled the end of Jones’ long, mentally strenuous recovery process. He started and led the team with five receptions. Although the Terrapins fought offensively and lost the opener, Jones returned from his absence without losing his status as a recipient on that team. His mother Nicole Baran flew to Chicago and watched from the stands. She couldn’t hug him later because of the team’s strict social distancing guidelines, but she knew what the moment meant for her son.
“I was rushed with 1,000 different emotions,” said Jones. “I was so excited and happy that I even got there and came to the first game. It was a great achievement for me, especially going through everything we went through this off-season. “
Jones came to Maryland as a three-star recruit from Fort Myers, Florida, but his debut immediately caught attention. When Maryland took on Texas in the 2018 opener, Jones scored the first three goals of his career – a rush, a reception and a pass. He was the first freshman to score these three ways since Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota did so in 2012. Jones finished the season 22 catches for 288 yards, the second highest on the team, and added another 173 yards on the ground.
When Michael Locksley took over the Maryland program after Jones’ new season, staff insisted that from now on every player would be judged on performance rather than past performance. Jones played through the spring exercises, going into his sophomore year with the program, hoping to make a jump after his first season, but in early August he ripped open his ACL on a hands-free practice game.
Jones called his mother on FaceTime from the exercise room, cried and barely spoke. An MRI scan had not yet confirmed the tear, but staff expected this to be the diagnosis.
“I had to keep it together on FaceTime and be strong for him and let him fall apart,” said Jones’ mother. “And when I hung up, I fell apart. It was rough. “
She had already found the next flight from Fort Myers when Ryan Davis, the Terps’ head coach, called and walked her through the next steps. Davis told her to wait until after the operation to get to College Park, because then Jones would need her most.
By the time Jones had surgery a week later, his mother had turned her research into an expert on knee surgery and blogged about the experience. Jones had never had an operation before, and no injury had kept him from it for more than a few weeks in his football career.
“He didn’t even really work to get the coach to show what he can do and earn his place and earn his respect,” said Jones’ mother. “So he’s trying to build relationships and all that, and he’s stuck in the training room.”
The Maryland recipient group is full of potential, and the talent is particularly focused on Jones’ class. Jones, Dontay Demus Jr., Brian Cobbs, and Darryl Jones all attended the program in the 2018 class. As newbies, these four players made up nearly half of the team’s reception areas. After Jones dropped out in 2019, the other three combined made up more than 1,000 reception yards, which is roughly half of Maryland’s total. All four are still in the roster, and five-star recipient Rakim Jarrett also joins the position group. But Jones hasn’t relapsed in his absence. Instead, he tried to gain experience by watching the players who helped fill his void on the field of play.
“I feel like I almost learned from them,” said Jones. “I got my second reps with them.”
As the months went on, walking became a light jog and jogging eventually became running. Maryland players were returning home for the spring break, but the pandemic kept Jones in Florida much longer. He had to find a trainer near his home and worked with Maryland’s medical staff who had overseen most of his recovery. After the gyms closed, Jones worked with a close friend of his and together Jones said they “fill up gas cans and do squats with gas cans and they walk down the street like we’re pulling weights.”
The terps couldn’t train in the spring, but Jones had learned Locksley’s system before his injury from the previous year. When they returned to the field in the fall to prepare for the 2020 season, Jones didn’t have much catching up to do.
“There are still some technical and basic things that we want to improve for Jeshaun and he loves to learn,” said Locksley during the fall camp. “But there is no doubt that a healthy Jeshaun Jones is good for Maryland’s offense.”
After the Big Ten canceled the 2020 fall season, Jones thought he might have to go without football for two years. When football returned, Jones said, “Now that I have the opportunity to play, it’s a blessing.” Jones mentioned the excitement of resuming fall camp, then the first few exercises with pads. He thought about what the first game would feel like, then experienced it.
“The gift in all of this is seeing him mature because I can see the difference in who he was in 2018 and who he is now,” said Jones’ mother. “And he’s just so much more confident and mature and no longer a newbie with big eyes. It’s good. As bad as it was, everything is perfect. “
Jones’ mother knew the prelude would be emotional for her son based on previous conversations as they pondered to that day. When the team bus was parked near the stadium, Jones said he cried a bit. His teammates didn’t say anything and Jones laughed and added, “I’m glad they didn’t.” As Jones was warming up in the field, he put it in his mother’s face – partly, she thinks, because she hadn’t arrived and he was worried, but also because he was overwhelmed by the joy that he’d officially returned .