Admit it. You wondered. You had to.

Aaron Jones probably saw the shadows, too, in every stretched welcome back smile and too-hard handshake.

After tearing the ligaments in his left ankle at Texas Tech almost a calendar year ago, who could blame you -- and me -- for wondering if he would be the same player.


Oh, and there was also...

Yeah, Aaron Jones is back.

Career-high 249 yards. Career-high 31 carries. Both were a bit of a gift from his coach as Jones and the Miners dominated their I-10 rivals NMSU in a 38-22 win on opening night.

"Probably 31 (carries) is a little bit too many," said head coach Sean Kugler of Jones. "But today was kind of a reward for him...He wanted that ball.

“He was just so happy to be back out there and I was so happy for him," said Kugler. "He has built his body up. He was 165 pounds, then 185, now he’s a 210-pound kid. It was an unbelievable performance."

Perhaps Jones' other reward is that he won't have to carry his hometown team the way he did before his injury.

True freshman RB Quadraiz Wadley had 10 carries for 36 yards and showed some of the moves that earned him over 2,500 yards rushing for Kennedale High School last year.

The Miners are also showing signs of life in the passing game. Junior transfer QB Zack Greenlee was 15-of-27 for 229 yards and three touchdowns.

Kugler had praise for the former Fresno State signal-caller, who played through some injuries.

“I came out of this game admiring his toughness the most," Kugler said of Greenlee. "He tweaked his MCL the first series. He dinged his shoulder, popped his shoulder out of place, came back in and mangled his finger. He really did a nice job for his first game. For him only being here for the summer, he was really impressive.”

The health of its starters will always be a concern for UTEP, perpetually as deep as a teaspoon at the skill positions.

But Aaron Jones is back, and doing his part to chase away those shadows.