If UTEP running back Aaron Jones was ever dejected after enduring the most severe injury of his career, his family made certain that the moment was as fleeting as the young man himself.
His parents, Alvin Sr., and Vurgess Jones, were career U.S. Army – both retired as E-9 Sergeant Majors. Twin brother Alvin Jr., a linebacker for the Miners, serves as example and constant inspiration. Self-pity stands no chance in the Jones’ household.
“They were on me to get back out there,” Aaron Jones said of his parents. “They wouldn’t let me feel bad for myself or sit down and mope around. They always kept me in a positive mindset. That’s the big thing, coming back from injury. They wouldn’t let me get down.”
Not that Jones requires much encouragement. He is, after all, his parents’ son. He trusted his doctor, his trainers and himself. After missing nearly all of the 2015 season, he began this year with a flourish.
Jones opened 2016 with a 249-yard performance in a win over New Mexico State, the third-best performance in school history. Last week against Texas, he ran for 123 yards, including a 51-yard touchdown, in less than three quarters of work.
“I truly felt he was the best football player out on that field,” UTEP head coach Sean Kugler said at his weekly press conference.
Kugler pulled his star tailback in the third quarter, as Texas opened a big lead. He is well aware of what Jones delivers and said that he wanted to see some of the younger backs.
“I feel like I showed I could play at a high level,” Jones said.
Jones (5-10 and 205 pounds) has been productive since he arrived from El Paso’s Burges High in 2013. He led the Miners in rushing each of his first two years, with 811 yards as a freshman and 1,321 yards as a sophomore. He was off to an excellent start last season, as well, but he tore ligaments in his ankle in the second game versus Texas Tech and was sidelined for the remainder of the year following surgery.
He estimated that he devoted 3½ hours per day, nearly every day for the next 10 months, in rehabilitation work. He channeled the frustration of not playing into trying to become a better leader.
“I see myself as a leader by example, so it’s kind of hard for me (vocally),” he said. “It made me grow up a little bit. Just becoming more of a vocal leader, stepping up that way. Trying to get some guys under my wing and just showing them what I know and teaching them.”
Always with the encouragement of his parents and brother, a starting linebacker and the Miners’ leading tackler.
“My brother definitely won’t let me feel bad for myself,” Jones said. “Anything he was doing, I wanted to do it too, so I didn’t sit around the house. It kept me active, so it kept me from sitting there worrying about it and getting down on myself.”
Jones said that the ankle felt fully recovered by the end of April. He maintains a training regimen that consists of extra stretching and treatment to combat fatigue and soreness. He has improved his diet and tries to get adequate sleep.
He also transformed his body at UTEP. He came in as a 173-pound burner, but gradually gained 30 pounds of muscle, without losing any of his speed or burst. He is now as comfortable running between the tackles as in the open field.
“Some of the hits I feel like I wouldn’t have been able to take if I was still lighter,” he said, “so definitely the bulk has helped me.”
Jones moves up the UTEP rushing and touchdown charts. He is fourth in career yards with 2,713 yards, fewer than 900 yards from John Harvey’s school record (3,576). He hopes to challenge Donald Buckram’s single-season rushing record of 1,594 yards, set in 2009.
“Most importantly, I want to go to a bowl game and win a bowl game,” he said. “Winning is truly all I care about.”
Above: Aaron Jones has returned from injury in a major way for the Minors (Photo courtesy Michael P. Reese/UTEP)