Nate Jones, a dynamic running back who had said he entered the transfer portal in May, is back on the University of New Mexico football team and no longer in the portal, UNM coach Danny Gonzales confirmed on Thursday.
Jones, who was second on the team last season with 210 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 41 carries as a freshman, did not suit up for the season opener last week and will not be suiting up for Saturday’s game against New Mexico State. Jones has been playing on the scout team and must work his way back to a contributing role, Gonzales said.
“Right now he’s serving his role as a scout team member and handling his business,” Gonzales said. “He’s done a really good job of what I’ve asked him to do. He won’t be playing in games until something changes, but he is accepting his role at a second chance and doing a good job at it.”
Jones, originally a high-rated recruit out of St. John Bosco in Bellflower, California, missed the entire spring with the Lobos. Gonzales did not specify why he was out, only saying that Jones didn’t meet the team’s expectations.
It was a great downfall from what he had accomplished as a freshman. He showed explosiveness and grand potential when he ran for 96 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries in a 39-33 loss at Hawaii on Nov. 7, which was his debut. He had sat out the week prior because he had been in close contact with a teammate who tested positive for COVID-19 and was near the end of a 14-day quarantine.
“My plan right now is to work harder than ever to get my spot back,” Jones said in a phone interview with the Journal. “I want to prove to everybody where I’m supposed to be at.”
Jones missed the first week and a half of preseason camp with the Lobos, but then received his second chance, which started with a scout-team-member role.
“He missed the entire spring and most of the summer and so he has work to do to meet our expectation, and he knows it,” Gonzales said. “He’s done a great job of what he’s expected to do. I’m excited that he has realized what he has to do to be on our team just like everybody. Hopefully he’ll continue down that path.”
Gonzales wants Jones to step up. The second-year head coach has also challenged other running backs, including senior Bobby Cole and freshman Aaron Dumas, saying they must play with more aggression than they did in the season opener, a 27-17 home win over Houston Baptist. Cole did not play the second half, as he was nursing ankle pain.
Dumas ran for 57 yards on 15 carries and Cole finished with 32 yards on 10 carries.
“I thought we danced a little too much in the backfield trying to wait for things to open for big plays instead of doing what we do,” Gonzales said. “I think you’ll see some dramatic improvement in the run game. You should. It’s all about being physical.”