A day in the life of freshman Marcus Jones

Freshman Marcus Jones is finding his way in Minnesota.

Gophers freshman wide receiver Marcus Jones lifts  weights with the team Friday afternoon in the Gibson/Nagurski Football Practice Facility.

Gophers freshman wide receiver Marcus Jones lifts weights with the team Friday afternoon in the Gibson/Nagurski Football Practice Facility.

Adam Richard

Marcus Jones is a true freshman on the Gophers football team adjusting to a busy schedule, life on a college campus and getting ready for a cold winter.

Jones has had a good start to his college career. He is averaging more than 16 yards per reception and more than 27 yards per kickoff return, including a touchdown return of 92 yards, all while getting used to starting on a Division-I football team.

Off the field, Jones is another freshman, far away from his high school home, trying to pin down a major and adjust to college life.

Jones, a North Carolina native, was offered a scholarship by Northern Illinois while Jerry Kill was still head coach there. After Kill departed from Northern Illinois, Jones was unsure of his future.

He was offered scholarships from Vanderbilt and Ball State after his state championship game in North Carolina. Kill called him in December after accepting the Minnesota head coaching job and Jones toured the campus.

âÄúIt was so cold. The snow was taller than me. I talked to Coach Kill and some people in academics and some players. I felt like this was the best place for me,âÄù Jones said.

Jones wakes up at 7:15 a.m. and checks in with the team. The Kill administration has emphasized discipline and requires that all athletes attend their classes regularly.

âÄúWe always have to check-in in the morning to make sure weâÄôre up and ready for class,âÄù Jones said.

Jones is a true freshman, experiencing college classes for the first time. He is experimenting with different classes, taking introductory courses and feeling out his interests.

Student-athletes donâÄôt get the luxury of being able to change their majors, as they only have four years of athletic eligibility. Those are the only years in which scholarships pay for credits. They need to declare soon after they begin college and stay on that strict path.

âÄúI was thinking about going into engineering. ItâÄôs a lot of work. IâÄôd have to miss some practices. I can handle the math,âÄù Jones said. âÄúI donâÄôt want to risk getting behind in football and then risk getting behind in school. IâÄôm going to take my time and make the right decision on [my major].âÄù

After his morning classes, Jones walks back home to have lunch by noon and gets back to class again by 12:20 p.m. Then he heads over to the football facility by 1:30 p.m. to get ready for the dayâÄôs football activities.

Team meetings begin at 2 p.m., where Jones studies game tape and diagnoses the plan for the upcoming game.

He is new to the system, but has always been quick to pick up football schemes, according to his high school coach, Reginald Lucas, for whom he played cornerback, running back and returner.

âÄúMarcus is a very smart kid. He picked up both [offensive and defensive] schemes very quickly,âÄù Lucas said.

âÄúHis work ethic is what impressed me the most. He was pound-for-pound the hardest working kid in our program.âÄù

Practice begins at 3:30 p.m. and after Jones finishes warming up he runs routes with the wide receivers. This is a new development for Jones. He predominately played cornerback in high school and was recruited as such, but when Minnesota had a need for a slot receiver, he seized the opportunity to be able to play as a freshman.

âÄúI wasnâÄôt sold on the idea, but anybody tells you that you get a chance to play your freshman year, you try it,âÄù Jones said. âÄúI think I found a niche as a receiver and returner, but IâÄôm not going to say I havenâÄôt been thinking about getting on defense and hitting somebody.âÄù

Jones runs his routes at practice with precision and speed. He is one of the smallest players on the team, but what he lacks in size he makes up in effort.

He displays enthusiasm running on and off the practice field, anxious to get in the next play or watch the second team take snaps. He explodes off the line of scrimmage, making strong cuts as though it was a game situation.

Kill addresses the team at the end of each practice at 6 p.m. before the team can leave to clean up and eat dinner.

Kill has not been shy about his admiration for both JonesâÄô current play and his future.

âÄúItâÄôll be scary, with how good Marcus is playing right now, how good heâÄôll be three years from now,âÄù Kill said.

After dinner, Jones has to head to a night class, and on the evenings when he doesnâÄôt have class, he said he looks forward to being able to go home and rest.

Jones has to mix in a full load of classes, homework and five hours of football activities each day.

âÄúYou have time to do it all. The hardest part is sometimes you donâÄôt have time to eat or rest and you have to come to practice hungry and tired,âÄù Jones said. âÄúThat adds to my mental toughness.âÄù

He said he wants to maintain a high GPA and continue to work hard on the football field.

âÄúI met Larry Fitzgerald, Matt Spaeth [and] Eric Decker. You see those guys working hard in the summer,âÄù Jones said. âÄúI admire their work ethics. I admire anybody with a work ethic like that.âÄù