Tony Jones describes himself as being very confident. It may never have been higher than on the first play of his college career in which he fled 45 yards down the field for a touchdown catch against Minnesota.
When Jones saw his role reduced as a freshman, it took a positive mindset in order to maintain focus. Then, he needed emotional strength when a knee injury prior to the 2011 season sidelined him for the season, which offered a medical redshirt.
Through many lows, Jones's confidence never wavered and his attitude never changed.
"I had to continue to work hard, do the extra things like still studying film, and make the most of every opportunity when they present themselves," Jones explained.
Quarterback Kain Colter has been Jones's roommate at Northwestern, and has been with the receiver through his injury struggles. Colter observed how Jones kept the same attitude, but saw his work ethic grow stronger.
"He had to persevere through a lot," Colter said of Jones. "A lot of guys would have just pouted, not worked as hard, and complained about the injury. (Jones) was always in the training room, rehabbing, and getting better."
Jones wasn't lacking any motivation to improve, even when he was injured. His greatest fuel was being on the sidelines for each game in 2011, wearing his game jersey, but also a brace on his knee.
"You just miss it," Jones recalled. "You make that promise to yourself that when the opportunity comes to get back on the field, you'll give it your all."
Now, healthy and still hungry, Jones is making an impact for Northwestern. Through six games, he has become a top target in NU's offense.
"It has been a long road for T.J., but he has done a terrific job," said head coach Pat Fitzgerald. "He has worked really hard to get himself healthy and get back on the field."
More than two years following Jones's first collegiate appearance -- his first career touchdown -- Jones found the end zone for the second time. He hauled in an 11-yard pass from quarterback Trevor Siemian, giving Northwestern a second-quarter lead over Penn State.
"It happened so fast, I didn't get to process everything," Jones said of the touchdown. "Once I got to the sidelines, it definitely felt very good."
Colter, lined up next to Jones on the play, was the first to greet him in the end zone for a celebration He knows what it took for Jones to accomplish that.
"I felt like the hard work finally paid off," said Colter. "He's now playing at a high level and finally got that touchdown."
This Saturday, Northwestern will play at TCF Bank Stadium in Minnesota, the site of Jones's exciting debut. Jones admitted the return has conjured up the memories of his first touchdown catch.
Jones remains confident and driven, as he always has. His best days could be yet to come.
"I think as you keep moving forward through his career, he has got special, special things to follow," said Fitzgerald. "I'm really happy for him, to see him out there."