Meltoya Jones is sore and couldn't be happier.
Soreness is a badge of honor for running backs, and the William and Mary tailback spent much of his college career fresh and fit.
"It's good to feel some soreness," Jones said. "I haven't really felt that in a few years."
After a solid day's work at Maryland in the season opener, the young man called "Beast" anticipates his increased role and the opportunity to contribute. The next chance comes at Saturday's home opener against Lafayette at Zable Stadium at 7 p.m.
"I've talked to guys who have made it to the (NFL) and who have made it in other aspects of life, and the big thing is always the work ethic, it's always how hard you work," Jones said. "No matter how many times you fail, you have to keep trying.
"I'm always trying to find new motivation to keep going. But I also know there's more to life than just football. I try not to let that wear on me, hold that weight on me. I always know I have another day, keep fighting, and there's always the chance I might be that guy."
Through no fault of his own, Jones spent the past four years as a spot performer who did his best work on special teams and the practice field. Such is life for a William and Mary running back unfortunate enough to play at the same time as Jonathan Grimes.
With the record-setting Grimes gone, the Tribe running game is now a collective effort. Jones, Keith McBride and Mikal Abdul-Saboor will rotate, and at times, play together in the same backfield.
"We're very pleased with him," Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock said. "He was frustrated last year. He worked very hard, but he was behind Jonathan. We weren't going to rotate a lot of backs last year.
"But then he worked even harder in the offseason to prepare himself this year. He worked really, really hard. Great attitude, great work ethic."
Jones, 5-foot-9 and 207 pounds, has good vision and runs confidently and aggressively. There's little dancing and stutter-stepping in the backfield while looking for a hole.
He rushed for 40 yards on nine carries against the Terps. McBride had 10 carries and Abdul-Saboor 12, as Tribe backs combined for 118 yards rushing.
Jones also is a capable receiver out of the backfield. The Tribe lined him up wide early in the Maryland game, essentially as another pass-catcher, and Laycock said they'll likely continue that throughout the season.
Jones never begrudged Grimes, who he considers a close friend. Frustrated as he was at times, he used the preparation time to improve his strength and speed, waiting his turn. He seeks motivational devices — phrases or videos — that he keeps in mind.
"The phrase in my head right now is, 'I won't be outworked and I won't be outfocused,'" he said. "When I go into practice every day, before every rep I tell myself, 'I won't be outworked.' No matter what, if a guy is better than me or playing in front of me or behind me, I know when we're in practice and we're repping, I'm going to be working the hardest."
Jones, an Air Force brat, also came to William and Mary with something to prove. After playing his final two years of high school at Tabb, he was a recruited walk-on at W&M. He drew interest from Davidson and Division III programs Bridgewater and Randolph-Macon, but wanted to test himself at a higher level.
"I had a little chip on my shoulder because I wanted to show everyone that I was serious," he said. "I wasn't here just to play around and say I was on the team. Sometimes, when you're not on scholarship, they don't seriously look at you. I wanted to make sure that the coaches and players understood that I was here to help the team out."
He also put extra pressure on himself heading to college. He gave himself the nickname "Beast" — complete with a tattoo on his upper back, from shoulder to shoulder. It was intended as ambition and a constant reminder of what he would work to attain, rather than self-aggrandizement.
"This is what I want to be," he said, "not just playing football, but I want to be like a beast: a person who succeeds at whatever they do."
Jones would have preferred not to have waited four years for an opportunity to play regularly, but there's value in the path he's taken, as well.
"It's good practice, for whatever career I decide to go into when I'm done playing ball," he said. "After I graduate, I will already understand how to be patient, to keep my work ethic up and keep my confidence up, no matter what happens around me."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun