Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Faith, Hard Work Helped Jones Defy Odds

By Brian Rosenthal

When Chris Jones went through physical testing on his surgically repaired knee, the Nebraska senior cornerback discovered something unusual.

Good, but unusual, he felt.

“It seemed like the injured leg,” Jones said, “was stronger than the good leg.”

Surely this meant that Jones, who tore the meniscus in his left knee in July, had made good on his promise to beat the doctor’s projected return of 4-6 months.

“I just prayed about it,” Jones said of his lofty goal, “and felt, ‘You’re going to be back.’ ”

Indeed, Jones past the final physical test, one meant to measure how well he trusted his leg, and returned to practice last week.

“I was very excited, very happy,” Jones said. “I kept telling my mom every day, ‘I’m getting better, this is happening.’ Every day was something different, and I just kept passing and kept getting stronger and kept getting stronger, and I’m like, ‘I’m going to beat this timeline.’ I was so happy when it was time for me to come back out here and play.”

Jones didn’t start but played roughly 20 snaps in Nebraska’s last game, a 38-17 loss to Wisconsin. He had two tackles.

“I felt like, that game, I needed that game to build my confidence back up,” Jones said. “It felt like I really got my swagger back with that game, and that’s what I needed.”

Whether Jones starts Saturday, when Nebraska (3-3, 2-1 Big Ten Conference) hosts No. 9 Ohio State (5-1, 3-0) isn’t certain.

It also doesn’t matter.

“Even if I don’t start, I expect to contribute to this team, contribute to my brothers,” Jones said. “I know they missed me out on the field, and I missed them. That was one of my motivations when I was rehabbing, was just getting back out here with my brothers.”

Jones, from Jacksonville, Florida, earned honorable-mention All-Big Ten honors last season, when he recorded three interceptions, including a 33-yard return for a touchdown at Indiana. He finished with 37 tackles and ranked second on the team with 10 pass breakups.

Only days before coach Mike Riley confirmed Jones had suffered injury, a committee had announced Jones had been named to the preseason watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to the nation’s top defensive back.

While the 4-6 months prognosis seemed dire, Jones immediately took to Twitter to say he would defy those odds.

Why so confident?

“Just because of my faith,” Jones said. “When it happened, at first I was down, then I thought to myself, ‘You know, there’s no reason to get down, just fight, just keep pushing yourself up every single day.’ ”

Jones had little idea how much damage he’d actually suffered when he initially hurt his knee.

“I was actually surprised,” he said, “because I remember I tore the meniscus in my right leg earlier in my career, so I was just thinking, ‘Maybe this is nothing,’ because I was only out for like a week and a half, at best.

“When I got the news, it was just like, dang.”

He put in the necessary hard work, and then some, with help from the Nebraska athletic training staff.

“They got me prepared, got me ready,” Jones said. “Every day, it was just go in there, not really say much, just grind hard and see what that outcome was going to be. When the time came to test it out, everything was perfect, everything was strong. I felt confident. I came out here and practiced and felt great.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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