GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — 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.
Sure, quarterback Jeff Driskel and the team's revamped offensive line probably will be more important in determining Florida's success this season. But being able to run the ball consistently has proven to be a championship model for the Gators.
And Jones could be the key to making it work.
He 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's got extremely good hands, he's very good at protection, very smart player. ... He looks really good. He's healthy, he's in shape, he's excited, itching to get started."