When Big Ten football got postponed in August, many players reacted with the emotions of missing an entire year of play. For Maryland wide receiver Jeshaun Jones, the cancellation was a much heavier hit.
After missing his entire sophomore campaign due to a preseason ACL tear, Jones feared that his return to the gridiron might not come as soon as expected. The return of conference play saved that, and the wide receiver didn’t miss a beat in his first game back on Saturday night.
“With everything going on, I was thinking like ‘dang’, I won’t be able to play football for two whole years, that’d be two years off,” Jones said. “And now that I have this opportunity to play now it’s just a blessing.”
Jones got started early for the Terrapins Saturday, hauling in the first of his five catches on the game’s first drive. On third-and-three, sophomore quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa hooked up with the 6’2” target for a seven-yard conversion that led to a Maryland field goal, the team’s only points of the game in the 43-3 loss. The reception was Jones’s first since Nov. 24, 2018.
Jones began a long road to recovery after tearing his ACL in August 2019, one that sidelined him from all football and physical activities for nearly eight months.
“It was tough for me. I wanted to be a part of everyday, it was so hard,” Jones said earlier this month. “It just wouldn’t sit right with me being out there [at practice] not being able to do anything, knowing that there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t even get out there and jog if I wanted to.”
After suffering the injury, Jones had to wait a few weeks before going under for surgery. And after that, he was stuck on crutches and unable to walk until a few more weeks passed by. Walking turned into a light jog, but that didn’t come until February 2020. Once sent home for COVID-19, Jones found a trainer in his hometown of Fort Myers, Florida, to keep working towards his return to football.
With nowhere to go and no equipment to use, Jones and one of his friends from home took to whatever they could find to train. Doing squats with gas cans and carrying them down the road became his new regimen in quarantine.
With the extended time off due to the pandemic, Jones got back into the gym and onto the field to get ready for the late start of the 2020 season, this year accompanied by a brace on his knee.
“The medical stuff and the training stuff, I’m here every day, I’m so thankful for them for pushing me so hard, and taking such great care of me throughout this process,” Jones said. “I feel like if it weren’t for them, I don’t think I would be where I’m at.”
The receiver’s reliability for the young Tagovailoa will be crucial in the passing game this season. After a stellar freshman year in which he reached the end zone seven times (five receiving, two rushing) to break program records Jones has proven that he can play. It was evident from his first time playing in a Terrapin jersey, when he had a receiving, rushing and passing touchdown his college debut against Texas.
“Jeshaun is one of those guys on our team that we feel brings playmaking ability,” head coach Mike Locksley said before the season. “We’re disappointed and obviously missed having that skill set last season with the ACL...But there’s no doubt the experience he had from playing as a freshman, as well as having been here for the install of the new system that we’ve run has really benefited him because I haven’t seen a misstep or miss a beat.”
In a game where Maryland was down for nearly the entirety of the game, Jones became the most targeted option in the passing game with six targets. He put up 37 yards and 7.4 yards per reception for a team-high five receptions. The catch total was also Jones’s second-most as a Terrapin, second to only his six-reception game against Indiana in 2018.
“You can see how he’s come back and really dedicated himself and really wanted to get back on the field with us,” wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. said earlier this month. “He’s spent a lot of good time getting healthy in the offseason, just making sure that he’s ready to play. It’s the same old system, he’s been that guy that brings in intensity catches a lot of balls.”
As the game progressed, the wide receiver became more of a factor for a struggling Tagovailoa, who finished the game with three interceptions in his Maryland debut.
Jones hauled in two big catches in the team’s first drive of the second half, both for 10 yards. The short air-time of each throw from Tagovailoa was followed by Jones’s signature quick agility, gaining first downs on his own before getting caught by a swarm of Wildcat defenders to stop any real momentum.
Though Jones’s long-awaited return to the Terrapin offense was met by disappointing blowout, his health looked promising for the season to come.
Having Jones’s talent back on the Maryland roster prompted Locksley to utilize him in more ways than just a pass catcher. The redshirt sophomore acted as the team’s punt returner against the Wildcats despite seeing the field just three times in that role as Northwestern’s offense cruised down the field all game.
Jones finished with 42 all-purpose yards to finish his first game back in almost two years, which was tied for the third-highest on the team with wide receiver Nick DeGennaro and behind running backs Jake Funk and Isaiah Jacobs, who saw most of his yardage as Maryland’s kickoff returner.
Tagovailoa seemed to take a liking towards Jones in a debut that he’ll be eager to soon forget, but fans can hope to see more connections between the two playmakers in the Terrapins’ next game under the lights against Minnesota in College Park.
“I’m just happy to be out there, finally get the pads on,” Jones said. “This is the longest I haven’t played football ever since I started playing football. So I’m just blessed for the opportunity to be back out there.”