Montana State running back Logan Jones acknowledges the crowd after last October’s game against Northern Arizona at Bobcat Stadium.

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Logan Jones took football for granted.

His talent as a dynamic running back came easily in high school. Montana State teammate Noah James played with Jones at Kalispell Glacier and described him as “young and stupid.”

That continued into Jones’ college career. He skipped “optional” player-run practices last summer. Subsequently, the Bobcats coaching staff didn’t invite him to fall camp.

He rejoined the team when school commenced and the roster expanded.

“When you want to accomplish what we set out to accomplish, you got to be here,” Jones said. “Everyone else is here, you should be here for your teammates.”

Being away from the team last summer changed Jones’ perspective. He realized he couldn’t just do what was required. This time around, he earned the starting tailback job after fall camp. Following his most challenging college semester, Jones is preparing for significant playing time as a junior, beginning with Saturday’s season opener at Washington State.

This past spring, Jones was again away from his teammates while recovering from shoulder surgery and illnesses that hospitalized him multiple times. Jones said he’s fully healthy now and ready to maximize what he hadn’t in the past.

“Up until this summer, he probably didn’t realize how great of an opportunity he had,” Bobcats running backs coach Michael Pitre said, “or how special a player he could be.”

As a freshman, Jones appeared in nine games, contributing mostly on kick returns, highlighted by a 100-yard touchdown against Portland State.

The transition from high school to college was tough on Jones, he said, but he didn’t recognize the importance of the optional workouts. After missing fall camp in 2016, though, he learned his lesson. As a sophomore, he led the Bobcats with more than 25 yards per kick return. Still, Jones only carried the ball six times and was stuck behind Gunnar Brekke and Chad Newell on the depth chart.

He also suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery once the season concluded. Jones knew he wouldn’t be able to practice with the Bobcats throughout the spring as he recovered. His semester took another tumultuous turn, too.

Jones was diagnosed with influenza, then bronchitis, then bronchospasm and deemed asthmatic. At first, he wasn’t concerned. “Dudes get sick, whatever,” Jones thought. After rushing to the emergency room multiple times at 3 a.m. and missing three weeks of school, however, his sentiment changed.

“I didn’t feel like I mattered as much,” Jones said.

His girlfriend constantly asked if he was OK. He had to adjust to carrying an inhaler. Roommates Brekke and Matt Brownlow as well as his girlfriend and her mother assisted Jones throughout what he called his most trying semester.

“I needed all the help I could get,” Jones said.

James asked if playing was something Jones wanted to pursue. If so, he had to be all in, James told him.

Jones made up for lost time over the summer. He attended the workouts he missed the previous year — he wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. After organized sessions run by head strength and conditioning coach Alex Willcox, Jones stayed longer each day for a double workout.

He prioritized “The Big Three” — bench presses, power cleans and squats — to emerge at the level at which he knew he was capable. During player-run practices, Jones set up on the field next to James. “What do we do here? What’s the reason for this? What’s the concept,” Jones would ask.

He now has a better grasp of MSU’s offense instead of relying solely on natural instincts.

“I started caring a lot more about football,” Jones said. “... I was like ‘Alright, I need to know this (stuff) because I’m kind of the old guy now. It’s time to get my poop in a group a little bit.’”

With Brekke and Newell graduated, the Bobcats entered camp with a hole to fill and an opportunity for Jones. He hadn’t realized the payoff from the summer until the second or third day of August drills. Jones knew his assignments and began moving up the depth chart.

That’s when it hit him. This was the player Jones said he should have been in the past. And now that he’s back to being himself, Jones will start in Week 1.

“He’s come a long way in the 18 months that I’ve been around him,” MSU head coach Jeff Choate said. “... He could have walked away from (the opportunity) and said I’m not going to do this anymore. Instead, he said I’m going to do it better.”

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