Beginning with a historic debut against Texas, Jeshaun Jones stood out early among a talented group of young Maryland wide receivers last season, finishing the year with the most receiving touchdowns (five) by a Terps freshman since Stefon Diggs in 2012.
Jones, Maryland’s top returning receiver, will have to wait until next year for his encore.
The 6-foot-1, 198-pound Florida native tore the ACL in his left knee during practice Monday and will miss the 2019 season, the team announced Tuesday. It came shortly after another receiver, Virginia Tech transfer Sean Savoy, was seen leaving the practice field and grimacing with an apparent leg injury.
Three other Terps who also made positive first impressions as freshmen — Dontay Demus, Darryl Jones and Brian Cobbs — will now be among those who might get their chance to play a more prominent role in the passing game.
In the 2018 season opener, Jones’ college career began with touchdowns each of the first three times he touched the ball — a 28-yard run on a jet sweep, a 65-yard catch-and-run and a 20-yard pass to Taivon Jacobs that helped the Terps to a 24-7 lead in a 34-29 win over the then-No. 23 Longhorns.
Jones became the first freshman to be involved in a scoring play the first three times he touched the ball since Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota in 2012. Jones later became the first Big Ten freshman to have a touchdown catch and touchdown run in two different games since Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett in 2003.
After a six-game stretch in which he caught just a single pass in each game for a total of 54 yards, Jones finished the season strongly. He finished with 22 catches for 288 yards and rushed 18 times for 173 yards, scoring seven total touchdowns and passing for that one against Texas.
First-year Maryland coach Mike Locksley was not available for comment Tuesday, but he is expected to address the media about Jones’ injury after practice Wednesday.
Senior running back Jake Funk, who acknowledged after practice Tuesday that he suffered a torn ACL against Ohio State last season, said that he talked with Jones after his injury occurred.
“Obviously when you first hear the news, it’s hard,” Funk said. “You can ask anybody who’s ever gone through it. But I can tell you right now that Jeshaun is the kind of guy that’s going to come out and attack rehab every day and have a positive attitude every day while doing it. I have no doubt in my mind that Jeshaun will come back better than he was before.”
Jones was not available for comment, but his mother, Nicole Baran, said in a telephone interview Tuesday that her son was “very upset” by the injury. Baran said that it was the first major injury Jones had suffered playing football.
Baran said she spoke with Jones several times since the injury occurred.
“It’s going to take a second to sink in, the gravity of it all for him,” Baran said. “That’s what we’re working through right now, him kind of coming to grips with him being done for now. And that’s kind of hard for a kid who has never had a major injury.”
Asked what she told Jones, Baran said: “We can’t both panic, so I’ve got to keep it together. I just told him we’ve got to stay positive and think forward. It’s done, we can’t change it. For him, it’s still sinking in. Me, I’m ready to get a plan of action and let’s go, what do we do next?”
The silver lining for the Terps is they are stocked with several other promising young receivers.
Demus, a 6-4, 202-pound sophomore from Washington, finished the 2018 season with 13 catches for 278 yards, including a 60-yarder against the Buckeyes to set up a touchdown; Darryl Jones, a 6-2, 180-pound sophomore from Virginia Beach, was the only four-star receiver in last year’s recruiting class and finished with nine catches for 147 yards. Cobbs, a 6-1, 203-pound sophomore from Alexandria, Va., had five catches for 108 yards.
The injury to Jones could open the door for others as well, including redshirt junior Rayshad Lewis, who was moved to cornerback after transferring from Utah State last season but is back playing wide receiver. As a freshman for the Aggies three years ago, Lewis, the son of former Ravens great Ray Lewis, caught 40 passes for 476 yards and two touchdowns.
Savoy, who played defensive back in the spring after transferring, was moved back to wide receiver. In two seasons in Blacksburg, Savoy caught 57 passes for 642 yards and six touchdowns. Savoy was not at the portion of practice viewed by the media Tuesday.
“Specifically at the receiver position, we’ve got a lot of talent back there, so I don’t think it’s going to be a problem for the next guy to step up,” senior wide receiver DJ Turner said after practice Tuesday. “As a team, we’ve all faced a lot of adversity, like a lot of adversity. This is another adverse moment that we’ve got to get over, and because of what we’ve been through, it shouldn’t be as hard.”