Before he suffered his first serious knee injury in the spring of 2017, former Maryland wide receiver Chris Jones thought he would be a coach someday.

Jones, who grew up in Baltimore watching his father, Troy, train athletes and his mother, Racquel, teach in the city’s school system, saw coaching as a way to stay attached to football after he was done playing. What Jones didn’t know was that his career — which began with such promise, including a commitment to Wisconsin as a three-star prospect — would end prematurely in the summer of 2019.


“Growing up, my family and I were always helping everyone out,” Jones said Wednesday. “My dad is a trainer, my mom was a teacher, my grandmother was a teacher in Baltimore City for 30 years. My family was always kind of that role model for people. As I got older, kind of being in the sports realm made it easier and I just wanted to continue to be close to football. There’s no better way than to be a coach.”

Jones, who first underwent surgery to repair his ACL and MCL as a redshirt sophomore, had a second knee surgery to repair damaged cartilage last year. After talking with former wide receivers coach Chris Beatty about a possible career in coaching, Jones had his first conversation with Mike Locksley on the subject shortly after the first-year Maryland coach arrived from Alabama in January.

“When Locks and the coaching staff got the job, I made sure to let them know how passionate I was for coaching,” Jones said Wednesday. “The opportunity came up in the summer that they’d been talking about it a lot, and I thought about it before camp, and I made the decision to be a coach.”

A redshirt senior, Jones was one of two players that Locksley added as student assistants before the season began when injuries prevented them from continuing to play for the Terps. Neither Jones nor junior defensive tackle Cam Spence, a former four-star prospect at St. John’s in Washington whose career was short-circuited by knee problems, had ever made it onto the field at Maryland because of injuries.

A third player, senior safety Antwaine Richardson, is also serving in a similar role as he recovers from a torn ACL suffered during spring practice. Richardson, who started 10 games for the Terps last season and finished fifth on the team in tackles, hopes to return to the field in 2020.

Locksley said after practice Wednesday in preparation for Saturday’s homecoming game against No. 14 Michigan that all three, in particular Jones and Spence, have helped the coaching staff in its first season at Maryland.

“I think the big thing was that those guys are experienced players that know the system from being there through the spring,” Locksley said. “I think they bring another dynamic to it in that they’re kind of in that intermediary role. They get to see the hours the coaches put in. They’re there with us. Both those guys have done a great job investing their time in helping us do all the little things we’ve got to get done to put together game plans.

“Because of their relationship with current teammates, it’s another way to add validity to things we say as coaches. It’s another way to get the message across. It’s peer to peer. Both those guys — and again, Antwaine Richardson has done a great job, [with] the expectation of him coming back to play next year. I just think that as a player you learn so much more when you sit back and have an opportunity to see how it’s coached, how it’s installed, why it’s called that, why it’s important to do it a certain way. Those guys bring a little different perspective to their teammates to what we’re doing.”

Richardson said he hopes to use what he is learning in a coaching and mentoring role on the field next season, when he will be likely called on to help replace fellow senior Antoine Brooks Jr.

"I feel it’s going to help my game in the future with another perspective,” Richardson said Wednesday. “As a player, you don’t understand how the coaches feel about certain things. When you switch your role and get in their shoes, you understand it better. Over this season, I am trying to help the guys get to the level they want to get to. I ask them questions to help their game out.”

Asked what the biggest revelation has been, Richardson points out how coaches react when a player makes a critical mistake.

“At the end of the day, you’ll mess up and you don’t really understand why the coaches are basically getting on you,” Richardson said. “That was the eye-opener right there. Being able to help a person after they mess up instead of a coach getting on you real heavy. Just being respectful about it and telling them in a way they will listen to.”

Richardson compares his current role with when he was in grade school.

“When you get in trouble, you never want to talk to the principal,” Richardson said. “You’ll talk to the assistant before the big guy. Being able to get to them, and say in a way of what they did wrong and what they could’ve done better. Even the positive aspect, let them know they did a good job. It’s a boost of confidence right there.”


In last week’s 52-10 loss at Minnesota, redshirt sophomore safety Deon Jones slipped trying to cover Minnesota’s Tyler Johnson on a slant pass, allowing the senior receiver to get free and run untouched into the end zone on a 16-yard touchdown pass. Richardson said he was in Jones’ ear even before any of the coaches.

“I was telling him, ‘You have to stay inside, stay on your toes, and not back up too much and get on your heels because when you get on your heels, you can’t change direction,’ ” Richardson said.

Jones said that he unofficially started coaching last season, when he was still rehabilitating from surgery and he helped a large group of freshmen receivers learn the playbook. Now he is learning how to break down game video with the help of graduate assistant Caleb Rowe, a former Maryland quarterback.

“It was easier for me, and they were like, ‘Chris, you want to be a coach?' ” recalled Jones. “I was like, ‘Yeah, I do.’ It feels good to actually have someone see that I can potentially be that. It’s been fun."

Jones found himself in a similar situation last week at TCF Bank Stadium when sophomore Dontay Demus Jr., who came in as Maryland’s leading receiver, dropped three passes, two of them early from redshirt junior quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome that Demus inadvertently tipped into the hands of the Golden Gophers secondary that set up one touchdown and resulted in another on a 72-yard pick-six.

“I know Dontay was pretty frustrated after that first drive with the pick and the dropped pass, and I kind of told him on the sideline, ‘Just keep your head up, bro, play the next play. Keep doing what you’re doing. You’re a great player. Mistakes happen. Play your game. We all know how good you are. We all know you can make that catch,’ ” Jones said. “I did the best I can to keep him up, but he was listening.”

Richardson said that being in this role has helped with his rehab.

“Taking it day by day and really embracing this role right here,” Richardson said. “At the end of the day, I can’t do anything physical, but the mental part is the biggest thing for this generation of the game. When you’re a smart player, you’re able to make the game less hard from a physical aspect, knowing the plays they’re running. Learning the game of football to an extent that I never knew before.”


Redshirt sophomore running back Anthony McFarland Jr., who was a freshman at DeMatha when Jones was a senior, said that seeing players such as Jones and Spence needing to stop playing in college has made him appreciate “every day” while he can still play. McFarland has a greater appreciation than most his age, having seen his own career nearly cut short by a serious leg injury while still in high school.

“When I got hurt, I thought the game was almost taken away from me a while,” McFarland said Tuesday. “Hearing that somebody can’t play football again kind of makes me thankful. I can only imagine what those guys go through. I got hurt and I can still play this game. I see Cam every day, he’s still the same guy. Even though the game’s been taken away from him, he still got a lot of positive energy.”

Locksley said that it helps reinforce a recurring message he tells his players.

“I think it’s definitely a visual representation as I’ve often say, ‘Time stands still for no one, and it’s important to maximize the time you have as a football player and as a student-athlete,’ ” Locksley said. “On any given play you can be gone and to see these two guys that they played well, they all saw go through the tough workouts and to have it taken away. I think it brings a different viewpoint to our players to see that and understand that I’ve got to play this game as if every play could be my last.”


Saturday, noon

TV: Chs. 2, 7 Radio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM

Recommended on Baltimore Sun