Unlike several of his teammates and collegiate football players across the country, rising senior running back Malcolm Jones managed to stay healthy for the entirety of the 2012-2013 season. But, without a team, Jones’ health did him little good.

Following his departure from the UCLA football team in September, Jones’ talents were relegated to his living room, where he watched his former team piece together a 9-5 season without his services.

“I know I went through so much with them,” Jones said. “I went through spring ball, I went to San Bernardino with them, so to see them succeed so much and just me not be a part of it, I was just kind of really stunned deep down.”

Jones gained 313 yards on the ground in three seasons as a backup to UCLA’s all-time leading rusher Johnathan Franklin, but left the team just a game into last season.

Following UCLA’s dominating effort over Rice in the team’s season opener in Houston, there was speculation that Jones, who had three carries for 10 yards, might leave the program.

Less than a week later, Jones tweeted “The rumors are true …” indicating the finality of his departure.

“I think over the course of my career, I haven’t gotten as much playing time as I’ve wanted,” Jones said. “This past season, when I didn’t play too much the first game, it just kind of tipped it over the edge and made me realize, ‘I need to get out of here,’ and ‘This isn’t for me.’”

With several months to contemplate his decision, Jones decided not to transfer to San Diego State as he had once intended, and said he realized he had made a mistake. An email and face-to-face apology to coach Jim Mora later, the running back was reinstated with the understanding that he would be without a scholarship for the upcoming season. Still, the tailback has returned as though he never left, with no outstanding grudges or bitterness from teammates and coaches.

“We’re all happy that he’s back,” coach Jim Mora said. “I don’t think anybody lost any respect for him given what transpired. … I feel like everyone still respects him and wants him to do well.”

Because Jones saw field time for six plays last season, UCLA football will have to appeal the NCAA to try to retain Jones’ junior year of eligibility; if the move fails, as it frequently does, Jones realizes he’s entering his final season for the Bruins.

“You always have to expect the worst and hope for the best,” Jones said. “I have to expect that this is going to be my last year and I have to do whatever I can to get some playing time and hopefully after that, into the NFL.”

For now, the 2010 Gatorade Player of the Year needs to perform in spring practice in order to see legitimate field time in a running back “by committee” system that will include rising redshirt sophomore Steven Manfro, rising redshirt junior Jordon James and rising redshirt freshman Paul Perkins, among others.

Jones’ first order of business will be returning to peak physical form after missing strength and conditioning coordinator Sal Alosi’s winter program.

“Well, you know he’s got to get into football shape,” said running backs coach Steve Broussard. “He’s been away from it for a little bit, and he’s just got to continue to work hard.”

Email Erickson at aerickson@media.ucla.edu.