Work ethic carries Jones in successful freshman season
Published: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 4, 2012 at 4:59 p.m.
On his first carry as a Gator, it was easy to see why Matt Jones was a consensus four-star recruit coming out of high school.
In the season opener against Bowling Green, the true freshman running back made an impressive spin move and rumbled ahead for a 17-yard gain. The run earned its own highlight on ESPN's YouTube channel.
On his final carry of the year, Jones showed he has a bright future ahead of him.
Filling in for senior starter Mike Gillislee, the Seffner Armwood alum followed up back-to-back first-down runs with a 32-yard touchdown to clinch a 37-26 victory over Florida State.
“Beating a rival like that and scoring in their end zone, I can't even explain how good that felt,” Jones said.
Jones finished the season finale with a career-high 81 yards on eight carries, but reaching that point was not easy for him.
Like most freshmen, he had trouble adjusting to the faster pace in college.
“When I first got there, it was kind of fast for me,” Jones said. “When they threw me out there to play, I had to get everything slowed down. Once it did, I just started working hard in practice on the speed of the game, and everything went from there.”
UF coach Will Muschamp said the primary reason Jones' role increased in November was because he practiced better.
“That's hard sometimes for young players,” Mushcamp said. “They've been the big fish in the little pond and they always haven't had to work as hard or do the things you've got to do at this level — (knowing) the speed of the game, understanding the scheme of the system and trusting your blocks.
“That's something he's continued to work on. He's done a better job of preparing himself throughout the week and understands what it took to be successful. He's got a great role model in Mike Gillislee, as good as you'll ever find. I think given the opportunities he's had that he's done an outstanding job.”
On the year, Jones ran for 259 yards and two touchdowns on 49 carries (5.3 average) and developed a stronger work ethic along the way.
“My first season was great,” Jones said. “I learned a lot from Mike Gillislee and he's a very good player. Now I know that everything is a grind. Everything is not handed to you, you have to go get it. It's all about hard work.”
Jones said that attitude was first instilled in him by his high school coach Sean Callahan, who has been at Armwood for 23 years.
“I just think he's done a very good job as a Division-I football player as far as understanding how important work is on a day-to-day basis,” Callahan said. “We work our kids hard here, and I think they transition to college really well.
“I can see his improvement. He's improved academically, he's improved with his social skills, he's become a polished young man and we're very proud of him. He represents us properly. He's going to be a very big part of the offense for the next three years.”
Callahan said attending Florida has opened new doors for Jones, and he's finally beginning to enjoy the fruits of his labor — and stability in his life.
“Nothing has ever been given to Matt,” Callahan said. “He's always had to work for everything, and he could easily be a guy that doesn't feel like he has to because of his talent. But he was born and raised to work.
“He doesn't have a great situation at home and getting away was important for him. Now he eats three meals a day and he has his own bed. Those are things he hasn't had before.”
As Jones turns his attention toward 2013, he plans to approach next year no differently.
“I'm just going to take matters into my own hands, I've always had to,” Jones said. “Every time I got an opportunity this season, I made the best of it. I'm hopeful for next year. My goals are big, but I'm just going to stay humble, stay hungry and stay healthy.”