Tony Jones hasn't suited up for Northwestern since 2010, after battling a knee injury last season. Now, he's back in practice, ready to make an impact and excited to be healthy.
"It feels great," said Jones. "It was a long year off last year, so I'm just out there having fun and making the most of every opportunity."
Jones made an immediate impact as a true freshman. On his first collegiate play, he caught a 45-yard touchdown pass against Minnesota. However, Jones suffered a torn PCL during fall camp and missed his entire sophomore season.
During Northwestern's bowl preparations, Jones returned to the field, though limited, and did not play in the bowl game in order to preserve his redshirt.
Jones is now involved in full-contact drills this spring and is adjusting to the game's speed.
"I think he's just getting the rust off of not practicing for a while," said NU head coach Pat Fitzgerald. "It's great to see him back out there. I think he's starting to get calloused. It's a little different running and getting in shape compared to getting hit and getting in shape."
The 2011 season was a new, laborious experience for Jones. He was forced to watch from the sidelines for each game at Ryan Field, while only traveling to one road game and the bowl game. An impact player as a freshman, Jones was not able to join his teammates on the field.
That was never more agaonizing than the first time, as Northwestern traveled for its game with Boston College, and Jones watched the team bus travel to the airport. He was forced to stay behind.
"You're so used to playing football every fall since third or fourth grade," said Jones. "To get that taken away from you for a year definitely hurts."
Jones found motivation from his missed games. He is looking to take advantage of his new beginning this season.
"That was just my motivation and my fuel, to work hard and when this opportunity (to return) came, just make the most of it," Jones said.
In his return to practice, Jones joins a group of receivers that is hungrier than ever and looking to improve.
"We're all working hard right now," said Kyle Prater. "We're just going to worry about the guys we got and keep pushing everyday, trying to push each other to get better."
"I'm trying to be modest, but I think this wide receivers unit has the ability to be the best in the Big Ten, best in the country," Jones said. "We definitely have a lot of workers on this offense, a lot of guys to be excited about."
With a healthy, hungry Tony Jones in the mix, the Wildcat wideouts have the potential to be great.