MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Marcus Jones has made quick work of both of his recoveries from knee repair surgery.
He's as about fast at rehabilitating as he is on the field, and he showed plenty of speed for Minnesota in the opener. The junior cornerback helped the Gophers pull away from UNLV by returning the second half kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown, signaling his successful triumph over a second anterior cruciate ligament tear.
"That was a huge booster to my confidence," Jones said.
He wasn't so sure last fall.
As a freshman, Jones tore his ACL in practice and missed the last five weeks of the season. After surgery in early November, he was back at spring practice in March.
Then in a game at Nebraska last November, Jones suffered to the same injury. On the other leg.
"I was like, 'I don't know if I'm in the right place. I don't know if this college football thing is for me,'" Jones said. "But you think about it, and all the work you put in, and you can't let it go to waste. You're like, 'All right. I've got to get back into it someway somehow.'"
Gophers coach Jerry Kill said he wasn't worried Jones would be back.
"Life's about your attitude when stuff doesn't go quite right. He was down like anybody for a couple of days, but then he went to work," Kill said, suggesting Jones could be quicker now than when he first arrived two years ago out of Wake Forest, N.C.
"Most of the time you lose a step or two," the coach said.
Jones wasn't buying it.
"Does it look like I have?" he said, smiling wide on Thursday night after Minnesota's 51-23 victory.
By Tuesday afternoon, the focus had turned to New Mexico State, this week's opponent, but Jones was being asked anew about his secret to rehab success. He also returned a punt 15 yards against UNLV and had three tackles, including one at the end of a long run by the Rebels to save a touchdown after he sprinted from across the field.
The only way Jones could explain his swift recovery was to credit the team's athletic trainers, strength coaches and medical staff.
"I really don't have a special formula for it. I don't have any cool Adrian Peterson stuff. I just know it happened, and I'm thankful for it," he said.
The rest of the Gophers have been impressed.
"I wasn't surprised. I was just thinking in my head, 'it's about time,' because he definitely has that speed," defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman said, reflecting on the touchdown.
Recruited as a cornerback, Jones was switched to wide receiver his first year because the Gophers were thin there. He averaged 28.5 yards per kickoff return, including a 92-yarder, and caught nine passes for 142 yards before he was hurt. But last season his playing time dwindled, and Kill suggested a return to his natural position. That, they figured, would be safer for his knees, too.
Jones felt so uncomfortable the first week of spring practice at the position he wondered again about his future.
"I was like, 'I don't know. These guys are pretty fast. This ain't high school anymore,'" Jones said.
But he'd come too far to let that bother him.
"We talk about being good teammates. You've got to give up some things to win, and that's the best example I could ever give you," Kill said.
NOTES: Kill said WR Andre McDonald will not play this season. He had been suspended for a violation of team rules. ... RB Donnell Kirkwood, who sprained his right ankle on Thursday night, is out of his walking boot and improving. Kill said he has a chance to play at New Mexico State. He sounded less optimistic about freshman RB Berkley Edwards, who hurt his right ankle in practice prior to the opener. Edwards still can't plant or cut properly. ... CB Derrick Wells, whose starting spot was filled against UNLV by Briean Boddy-Calhoun, will be back this Saturday night after recovering from a shoulder injury.