Football: Tony Jones overcomes injuries to bolster Wildcats receiving corps

Kevin Trahan

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Sitting in the locker room as his team left for Boston College to begin the 2011 season, Northwestern wide receiver Tony Jones faced something he hadn’t in years – the possibility of a season without football.

“You’re so used to being able to play football every fall since third or fourth grade, so to get that taken away from you for a year definitely hurts,” he said. “When the bus was leaving and I was staying, just walking back in the locker room when they left, being by myself and just thinking, ‘I can’t wait to get back out there.'”

Following a promising freshman campaign, Jones’ sophomore season ended before it even began when he tore his posterior cruciate ligament in practice. He was hit on a catch over the middle, landed on his knee wrong, “and that was my year.” He burst onto the scene in 2010, catching a 45-yard touchdown pass over the middle on his first play of college football, and finished the year with 11 catches for 157 yards and that lone touchdown.

Now Jones is “back out there,” joining an impressive group of wide receivers that coach Pat Fitzgerald simply called “damn good” at a spring practice last Tuesday.

The Northwestern receiving corps lost its two most productive receivers last season – Jeremy Ebert and superback Drake Dunsmore – to graduation, but the Wildcats have plenty of talent returning.

Junior Demetrius Fields and sophomore Rashad Lawrence will provide experience, while talented freshman Christian Jones could provide a spark in addition to Tony Jones’ return.

“You look at the group: Demetrius and Rashad have played a lot, they’re our experienced guys now,” Fitzgerald said. “To add Tony back into the mix . . . is great. And the rest of the group, you know, obviously we’ve got a lot of depth there.”

In addition to the depth NU has already built, the Cats added USC transfer Kyle Prater. A Maywood, Ill., native, Prater struggled with injuries in two years at USC but was a consensus five-star recruit out of high school and could provide another weapon for the already-dangerous receiving corps.

NCAA transfer rules state that transfers must sit out for a season, but NU has applied for a waiver to allow Prater to play in the fall, leaving him three years of eligibility instead of two. However, it’s unclear when the NCAA will rule on the waiver and it may not be until summer. Regardless of when he plays, Prater said he is impressed with the wide receiving unit this year.

“I’m definitely excited,” he said. “We’ve got great receivers, you know, (Tony Jones), Rashad, Demetrius Fields, (Christian Jones), we’re all working hard right now, so we’re just going to worry about the guys that we’ve got and keep pushing every day, trying to push each other to get better and focus on the task at hand.”

Tony Jones is excited about the group’s potential, with or without Prater, and set the bar high for his teammates and himself.

“I’m trying to be modest, but I think that this wide receiver unit has the ability to be the best in the Big Ten, best in the country,” he said. “We definitely have a lot of workers on this offense, so we have a lot of guys to be excited about.”