By Anthony Gimino / Special for Tucson News Now
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - When Rich Rodriguez and his coaching staff arrived after the 2011 season, they found they had a walk-on running back who was academically ineligible.
Geez. Didn't they have like a million other things to worry about?
But Rodriguez told the team upon his first meeting - "You're my guys" - and then he went about proving he meant what he said. He wasn't about to kick anyone, even ineligible walk-on running back Terris Jones-Grigsby, to the curb.
"My sophomore year - these coaches weren't here yet - I had a few problems academically. I almost called it quits," Jones-Grigsby said.
"They really sat me down and talked to me about things. Instead of saying, 'This guy is a thorn in our way and is always going to be that,' they sat me down and wanted to see what was wrong, what was going on, so they could actually help. I knew right then they were a different coaching staff.
"From that day forward, I knew I needed to step it up. The only thing I didn't want to do is let them down."
Jones-Grigsby has rewarded the coaching staff's faith and investment by emerging as a valuable part of the Arizona rushing attack in the post-Ka'Deem Carey era.
Jones-Grigsby started the season opener against UNLV, rushing 13 times for 124 yards and a touchdown - his first career carries after walking-on in 2010 under former head coach Mike Stoops. After the long wait to make his debut at running back, Jones-Grigsby then had to sit out two games because of an ankle injury.
He rushed five times in a backup role to true freshman Nick Wilson against Cal, then re-emerged in last week's win against No. 2 Oregon. He rushed 27 times for 115 yards and a touchdown, and he was huge in the passing game, with four receptions for 95 yards.
With Wilson ailing late in the game because of an ankle injury, Jones-Grigsby ran 14 times in the fourth quarter, when he accounted for 81 total yards.
Wilson is listed as questionable to play this week. Considering that "questionable" has usually meant "out" on Arizona's official injury report, Jones-Grigsby could very well be carrying the bulk of the rushing load against USC on Saturday night.
Before the season, co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Calvin Magee praised Jones-Grigsby for being "solid." He's been that, and more.
"I'm very proud to say he's done everything we thought he might be able to do, which is be consistent and be a complete player," Magee said. "He's as solid as they come."
Jones-Grigsby, the half-brother of former Arizona running back Nic Grigsby, spent the past two seasons earning the coaches' trust by being a do-it-right contributor on special teams. The coaching staff rewarded his work by putting him on scholarship in the summer of 2013.
"They called me into the office, and when they told me I wanted to cry," Jones-Grigsby said. "Luckily I didn't. It was during workouts. The whole team was there. When I came out of the office, I had a big smile on my face. They were cheering for me.
"It just goes back to having that supportive staff. I knew the coaches had my back, and once I saw my team like that ... it gives me fight."
Jones-Grigsby isn't big - he's listed at 5-foot-7 and 195 pounds - but he's strong in the upper body and fights hard for every yard, like Carey always did. It's not as if Jones-Grigsby hadn't displayed some skill in high school - he ran for 1,912 yards and 26 touchdowns during his senior season at California High School in Whittier, Calif. - it's just that he needed a college to take a chance on him as a walk-on.
Once at Arizona, he then needed a second chance that he has not squandered.
Jones-Grigsby credits the coaches for not giving up on him. Magee credits Jones-Grigsby.
"He wouldn't let us (quit on him) anyway," Magee said.
"He was consistent. He was here every day. He was trying to do everything he could. And then when he was able to practice, even though he was ineligible, he worked his butt off and showed up every day as if he was getting ready to play.
"So we knew we had a special kid."
Anthony Gimino has covered University of Arizona athletics for more than two decades, including as the football beat writer for the Arizona Daily Star and the columnist for the Tucson Citizen.