Jamaal Jones may have dreamed of one day being voted a senior captain of his college football team, but he never expected it to be at Montana.
Maybe at Washington, the university he signed with out of high school, or perhaps at USC or Miami if his dream was really ambitious. But Montana? Heck, the Grizzlies didn't even recruit Jones during his time at Graham-Kapowsin High in Spanaway, Washington.
And actually the teams that did quietly put down their phones when he tore up his shoulder at the beginning of his senior season.
That injury, a torn labrum that required surgery and months of rehabilitation (read: no football), set in motion the events that eventually led Jones over the mountains to Missoula. And the fifth-year senior wide receiver and 2015 Griz offensive captain couldn't be any more thankful for the most devastating injury of his athletic career.
"That's where my life started," Jones said this week. "If I hadn't injured my shoulder, I don't know that I'd be who I am today."
As a pee-wee player in the greater Tacoma, Washington area, Jones wasn't often allowed to flash the athleticism for which his time in maroon and silver would one day become known. Size restrictions in his fifth-grade tackle league forced him to play up with the older boys, even manning the offensive line at times.
Jones got his growth spurt out of the way early, standing 5 feet, 4 inches by age 12 (he's 6-1 today). That first year against the older boys was trying, but Jones's skill and speed emerged the next season against those his own age.
"And from there on it just got easier and easier," he remembered.
By high school Jones was a star. Nicknamed "Jamazing" by friends, he was all-league in basketball and track. Then of course there was football.
Jones was All-South Puget Sound as a junior having switched in high school from running back to receiver, the position that would soon pay for his college education. Rivals.com named him the No. 11 recruit out of Washington before his senior year.
The Huskies snapped him up quick and Jones committed before his final year of high school. Senior year was going to be amazing.
"I was getting all this attention. I'd committed already but I still wanted to break all these records, wanted to get to state," he said.
Instead a painful twinge in his shoulder pushed him to the sidelines. Following the dreadful diagnosis, he moved their permanently.
"I didn't know what to do," Jones said. "That's the worst part, knowing you could be out there dominating, killin' it, but you just can't do anything."
Torrey Myers was a quality control coach and graduate assistant when Jones, fully healed and ready to tear up the Pac-12, came to the Huskies in Seattle in 2011. He remembered the receiver's spark, even during his redshirt season when the only action he saw was with the scout team.
"He was our best scout team wide receiver by far," said Myers, who ran scout then. "So every week when we would play Stanford or Oregon or wherever, he would be the best player on the opposing team."
Myers left UW for Montana in 2013 to become the Grizzlies' receivers coach. Around the same time, Jones was feeling more and more disheartened by his place with the Huskies.
"From being little all the way through high school I was always the best at everything," Jones said. "But then I realized it wasn't enough to be good in college. ... I blamed a lot of other people."
Myers made a call to some Washington coaches, which were getting as fed up with Jones as he was with them. That summer, UW released the receiver from his commitment and Jones headed for the great unknown in Montana.
A fresh start.
Myers approached WR Ellis Henderson sometime that summer. This new guy, could he give him a place to crash until something opens up?
Henderson was skeptical of the stranger, but Jones was from Washington, just a few hours north of his own hometown of Vancouver up I-5. And Henderson had transferred to UM just the previous year from Hawaii. They had a few things in common.
Jones could have the couch.
"And then I found out how good he was at football," Henderson laughed.
The duo went catch for catch that 2013 season, Henderson pulling in 43 with Jones snagging 42 balls as the Grizzlies posted a 10-3 record. Henderson hogged the yards -- 1,008 to Jones's 760 -- and the touchdowns, 14 to three.
The roles reversed the following fall as Henderson dealt with physical and mental ailments and was forced to withdraw from the university in mid season. Jones posted the 1,000-yard season and tallied 67 catches.
"When I left last year, we lost that complement of each other," said Henderson, still roommates with Jones to this day. "He had to have that responsibility and he absolutely did well in that role."
Jones's transformation into a play-maker -- or perhaps his return to high school form -- had as much to do with his on-field approach as off. His teammates can attest to his work ethic now: Jones spent the entire summer in Missoula leading player-only workouts.
"If you want to be great, you've got to be great all the time," Jones recited. "You've got to be great every single chance you get."
With both Jones and Henderson again in the lineup for 2015, the Grizzlies' passing attack is set for new heights. Add into the equation a vaunted and high-flying offensive system under first-year head coach Bob Stitt, and each receiver is a safe bet to approach 1,000 yards again.
Only one player in program history has ever posted multiple 1,000-yard seasons: Marc Mariani.
Jones is 1,200 yards off the all-time Montana receiving mark (Mariani, 3,018). But if he breaks it, Henderson might catch him the next year. He's less than 500 yards behind his roommate and has two years of eligibility remaining thanks to a medical hardship waiver from last season.
Coach Myers won't take credit for any soothsaying that found Jones, though he is a bit proud of the pickup. Jones was his first recruit as a Montana coach.
"He came in as a skinny kid with bad body language and he's grown into a team captain," joked Myers, now a coaching intern with the NFL's Baltimore Ravens working with the running backs.
Jones appeared on NFL.com's list of the top 200 draft prospects for 2016 and Myers isn't surprised. He and Henderson, along with former Griz WR Taylor Walcott who was forced into retirement this year because of injury, all had what it takes to make it in the league, Myers figured.
"You see those three guys and then you see the guys we're playing with here; they can come into a place and compete and fight for a roster spot, possibly be a draft pick," Myers said. "A lot of it is perseverance and work ethic and I feel Jamaal has turned the corner in that way."
So does Jones.