GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida running back Matt Jones was mostly miserable last season.
The 6-foot-2, 235-pound junior from Seffner missed considerable time with a viral infection, rushed back for the second game of the season and then injured his knee a few weeks later.
He didn’t think things could get any worse.
But with Jones watching from the sideline, the Gators ended the year with seven consecutive losses and recorded the program’s first losing season since 1979.
“Watching the team just kind of falling apart, that was the toughest thing,” he said.
Jones is healthy now and eager to prove last year was a fluke — for himself and Florida.
“I think we’re going to overcome that 4-8 (record),” Jones said. “We don’t have 4-8 in our head no more.
“This team is kind of rebuilding. We’re stacked at every position.”
Especially at running back.
With Jones, sophomore Kelvin Taylor, fifth-year senior Mack Brown and versatile freshman Brandon Powell, the Gators have their most backfield depth in years. Throw in redshirt freshman Adam Lane and former walk-on Mark Herndon, and Florida could be poised to run — literally — back into contention in the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division.
Jones has the size to pick up tough yards between the tackles, the speed to get to the edge and go the distance, and the receiver skills to be a threat in the passing game.
“He’s a 230-pound back that, about midway through the third and fourth quarter, you get tired of hitting,” coach Will Muschamp said. “... He looks really good.
“He’s healthy, he’s in shape, he’s excited, itching to get started.”
Jones spent a week in the hospital and more than a month recovering from a viral infection that sapped his strength and energy and took off more than 10 pounds. Jones worked his way back on the field in time to play at Miami, but averaged 2.6 yards a carry and fumbled in a loss to the Hurricanes.
He fumbled again the following week against Tennessee, prompting Muschamp to open up the job. Jones then responded with a 176-yard performance at Kentucky, solidifying his spot atop the depth chart.
But just as he was starting to fully recover and find his rhythm, he tore meniscus in his left knee in a loss at LSU in early October.
“Last year was very difficult just overcoming my sickness and just going into the season and getting hurt,” said Jones, who finished with 339 yards rushing and two touchdowns. “I just feel like I’m a step ahead of my game this year. I’m just glad I’m here in camp with my boys.”