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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 27, Digital 6

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A fter a freshman season in which Markell Jones rushed for nearly 900 yards and 10 touchdowns and impressed with a skill set that included elusiveness as well as barreling-over-defenders physi- cality, he found his image plastered on posters, adver- tisements and billboards. He was anointed by some as the next great Purdue running back, earning Team MVP and even proclaiming after that postseason banquet he wanted to be in New York after his sophomore season for a bigger honor. (That'd be the Heisman.) That did not happen. By the end of 2016, Jones was battered, bruised and broken down, betrayed by a young body that, simply, could not stay healthy. Initially, it was a shoulder injury, as a result of a chip block, that never really got better. And after the season, into the spring, injuries persisted, a nagging back keeping him out of nearly half the prac- tices. And, in turn, limiting his ability to showcase much for a new coaching staff. Off-field incidents during the spring didn't help restor- ing the shine, either, and Coach Jeff Brohm said he had "numerous" conversations with Jones. "I think he understands what he needs to do," Brohm said. "I think he has the ability and the athleticism to get it done. He just has to prove to us that this is what he wants to do, which he has made great strides in to this point (in mid-June)." When Jones thinks about his first two seasons now, all he can do is shake his head and offer little explanation. Mostly all he'll say about that sophomore year is, "It was tough." The same phrase is used when he talks about the af- termath of the freshman season — an 18-year-old be- coming the program's poster boy isn't as cool as maybe it would seem. "It never got to my head," he said, trying to explain. "It was tough. I think that kind of maybe … I don't know. It was tough with all that attention." And, now, Jones has reached perhaps the most pivotal moment during his career. With the new coaching staff willing to give him an- other chance, Jones said he entered the summer with a focus unlike any he's had. "It's got to be different than ever," he said. "The mind- set for me has just been to fight. I feel like I'm coming out of high school again. I'm not RB1. I see who is above me, so I now have something I'm chasing after at this point. When I was on top, I was just like, 'I'm on top. I'm cool.' But it's not like that anymore. "I wouldn't say I had the best spring, and I kind of used that as motivation for myself because I'm like, 'If I don't Ready To Respond? Jones hopes to return to form in 2017 Photos by Tom Campbell Catapulted into the spotlight after a strong rookie season, Markell Jones had a more pedestrian Year 2, largely burdened by injuries. With a new coaching staff expecting a higher standard, Jones knows he needs to rise again. GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 27, ISSUE 6 25

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