March 4, 2014
After Northwestern's fourth spring practice Tuesday, NUsports.com's Skip Myslenski chatted with rising sophomore Malin Jones, who is playing this spring with a renewed appreciation for the role football has in his life.
HE WAS SUSPENDED days before the 'Cats hosted Michigan State last fall and so was nothing more than a mere spectator as they played their final two games of that 2013 season.
"You never know what it's like until it's taken from you," Malin Jones says when asked about that experience. "So it opened my eyes to how much football really means to me. It was an eye opener to see how much football was a factor in my life. A factor in my moods, things like that. It's just an eye opener when you're not playing football and it's going on and you could be out there."
HE WILL NOT, even when prompted and cajoled, divulge or discuss the reason for his suspension. "I'm just trying to move forward and trying to look to the future and make sure I keep moving forward and do the things I can control now," he will say at those moments. That, he avows, is also what coursed through his mind back on that day he learned he was suspended.
"I thought," he says of this moment, "I'm going to move past this and get past this and work toward the future and control the things I can control now. That's all I can do. I can't look in the past and live in the past and think about things that have already happened. I've got to do the things that need to happen moving forward."
THAT FUTURE HE THOUGHT OF THEN is now the present for Malin Jones, who is back working with the 'Cats during this spring's practice. He never thought of transferring, he says. "No. No. I was going to be here," he declaims. He never received sniffs from other locales inquiring if he might want to join them, he says. "No. I never looked to other schools or anything like that," he declares. He always felt he would return and that he would be welcomed when he did do that, he says. "When there's a suspension," he explains, "something happened that was not supposed to happen from whatever angle it was. But the coaches were supportive and I was supportive of the program and no one saw any faults anywhere that I should need to move on ... I can't name one person that didn't support me. There was never any problems or anything like that."
Malin Jones IS NOT ONLY BACK with the 'Cats. He is, after spending much of last season at superback, also back at running back. That is his familiar position, the role he played while developing into an All State performer at Joliet Catholic High School.
But, says running backs coach Matt MacPherson, "Last year we (made the switch) out of necessity. We moved him to superback because of some depth issues (at that spot) and, at the beginning of the year, we felt we had a lot of running backs. Which we did. But we made that move last year knowing that he was always going to move back to running back come spring."
WHILE SUSPENDED, Jones could not practice with the 'Cats or travel with the 'Cats or join the 'Cats at their hotel the night before a game or stand on the sideline with the 'Cats when that game went off. But he did retain access to the football complex and so, even then, he continued to work with the team's strength-and-conditioning staff. Now, even though he weighs (in his words) a little over 200, he looks slimmer. "Slimmer in the sense of less body fat," he says when that observation is made. "But I put on more muscle, so I'm still at the same weight."
HIS BODY FAT, he says, is between five and 10 percent.
HIS ATTITUDE, says MacPherson, "Has been great. He's happy to be back in the running back room and we're happy to have him. He's working hard. I couldn't ask for a better attitude ... There were some things he had to get corrected on his own. I think he's done that. I have no issues with him being back. He's been great."
HIS TIME AT SUPERBACK may well benefit Malin Jones in the future. "We do a lot of the running-back-split-out-as-the-wide-receiver, and he had to do a lot of that at superback," explains MacPherson. "So a lot of the route stuff, the blocking in space -- stuff that they work a lot on -- he got reps at that every single day. So now, when he does that at running back, he has those reps to carry him over."
BUT HIS SUSPENSION, which was such an eye opener to Malin Jones, has most certainly benefited him in the present. "The approach I was trying to do is actually happening now rather than me striving for something that I wasn't hitting," he will say at one point when asked how that experience changed him.
Then later, when told players often say they undergo an attitude adjustment after losing the chance to play, he says finally that his experience, "Changed me to appreciate football more and to realize what I am holding, and to not take for granted the blessings that I have in life. And football's definitely one of them."
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