Football pads where a beautiful sight to Malcolm Jones, who put them on for first time in eight months in UCLA’s first full-pad spring practice on Saturday.
It was a happy moment for the UCLA running back who at one point during his hiatus from the Bruins thought he might never wear them again.
“Being away from the game for eight months like I was, it makes you realize a lot about life and what football really means to me,” Jones said.
Jones was once a highly-touted running back out of Oaks Christian. He was a Gatorade National Player of the Year and was thought to be a can’t miss prospect and big recruiting get for then-UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel.
But following two lackluster seasons in which he rushed for only 313 yards and one touchdown, as well as a handful of coordinator and position coach changes, Jones was fed up.
Behind Johnathan Franklin and Damien Thigpen on the depth chart last season, he played in one game before calling it quits. Jones made what he called a “mistake” to transfer.
“He’d been through a lot of systems,” said UCLA coach Jim Mora. “At least what he expressed to me, he never felt like he was used correctly. He didn’t necessarily feel like he fit in our style of offense. I’m sure he was very discouraged.
“But you know, the grass isn’t always greener.”
Jones never managed to find a home in another program and was forced to watch last season, Mora’s first and one of the best in recent UCLA history, from his couch.
“I would watch the games every Saturday at my house and just to see how good my team was doing and see that I wasn’t a part of it, it was really hurtful,” Jones said. “I went through so much with this team, having gone through spring ball, I went to San Bernardino with them, and to see them succeed and not be a part of it, that really stung deep down.”
Jones made the decision to return to UCLA after the season, this time as a walk-on as there were no scholarships available. Mora and the team both welcomed him back, but he hasn’t won a starting job just yet.
“Knowing that I’m coming back and I’ve got to work from the bottom, I’ve got to work my way back up,” Jones said. “Even if I don’t (become) a starter I at least want to contribute to the team. I just want to get to that point.”
“There’s an inconsistency right now that he’s got to work through,” Mora said. “I think what Malcolm needs is somebody just pissing him off every day. When he’s mad, when someone gets in his craw a little bit and he runs angry, he’s a different guy.”
Off the field, Jones will still have one more battle to fight as he has filed a waiver with the NCAA in order to get last season back. If he is denied, this season will be his last.
Regardless, Jones feels that he is back where he belongs.
“I never should have left in the first place, it was a bad decision on my part,” Jones said. “It was more of an impulse decision on my part and I didn’t really think of the consequences. I just knew I shouldn’t have made that decision.”