Marvin Jones injured his knee the week after playing Maryland last year and never made it back on the field his freshman season.
The feeling for Jones following this year's game against the Terrapins is completely different. His knee is healthy and his confidence is at an all-time high following his strong return to the field with three catches for 74 yards and a touchdown in the 52-13 season-opening win.
"It was fun," Jones said. "After sitting out, it felt really great coming back on the national stage and be able to play all out and have fun."
Jones made a leaping 20-yard catch over the middle to set up a short touchdown run by Jahvid Best. He added a 12-yard catch in the second quarter to set up another touchdown, then got into the act himself in the second half, when he burned by the defense and caught a perfectly thrown deep ball from Kevin Riley for a 42-yard touchdown while having his left arm held by a defender
All in all, a pretty triumphant return for Jones, who could be one of the breakthrough players in the Pac-10 this season.
Coach Jeff Tedford said after the game that he had been waiting more than a year to see that kind of performance out of the talented Jones.
"He has great hands. He's got such great range and he can run and he's not afraid to go up for them," Tedford said. "Those first couple that he caught were high and behind him and they were really zipped in there. Those were great catches. The touchdown I thought was a great throw and catch. Marvin is highly competitive and has just been waiting to get his turn."
Jones will look to do more of the same this week when the 10th-ranked Golden Bears (1-0) host Eastern Washington (1-0) on Saturday.
While the passing game may not get much work against a Football Championship Subdivision opponent, the Bears know they will need a strong passing game to take pressure off Best and the running game as the conference season heats up and the competition gets stiffer.
"We always want to show that we're dynamic," Jones said. "Obviously we have the most explosive player in the country. We want to show that we can pass too."
Jones made only one catch as a freshman, coming in the loss at Maryland. He sprained his knee the following week and didn't play again the rest of the season. He traveled with the team late in the season and gained experience watching the game from the sideline.
Jones felt he could have played late last season but Tedford held him back, making sure he was completely healed.
Jones' return has helped upgrade a receiving corps that was a weakness for the Bears last year. They went into the season with only 15 career catches from their wide receivers, having lost DeSean Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins and Robert Jordan from the previous year.
Nyan Boateng had the best season of any of the wideouts with 29 catches for 439 yards, but Cal got little production from its wideouts. That was a big reason why the team ranked 83rd in the country in passing and opposing defenses were comfortable stacking the line to try to stop Best.
Jones wasn't the only wideout who stepped up in the opener. Verran Tucker had three catches for 50 yards and also threw a key block on Best's 73-yard touchdown run. Boateng caught two balls, including a 39-yard touchdown and Jeremy Ross and Alex Lagemann also caught passes.
"The confidence level with the quarterbacks and receivers is way higher than it was last year," Riley said. "It shows with the way they're making plays."