SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- T.J. Jones is on pace to set career highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns in his senior season at Notre Dame, and it's no coincidence that he feels he's a tougher player this year.
Through six games, Jones has been banged up quite a bit, but hasn't missed much, if any, practice time. That's something that wasn't a given when Jones first came to campus.
"Four years ago, I would've been looking to miss practice, would've really looked for every chance I got to milk the injury," Jones said. "And that comes with maturity, and over the four years I've learned that you gotta play through it. If you're injured, sit out, don't practice. But if you're hurt, you gotta play through it and you gotta work to get better and to help your team get better."
Jones, who has 33 catches for 481 yards and four touchdowns in six games, said he's learned how to keep minor knocks from turning into something more serious. He gets weekly massages after practice Wednesday or Thursday, and used the bye week to rest up.
His progression hasn't just been about route running, or field vision, or recognizing coverages. Coach Brian Kelly said developing the ability to play through those bumps and bruises keyed Jones' improvement this year.
"He has elevated himself in the sense that he now plays with a mental and physical toughness," Kelly said. "There are times where those things would have -- those bumps and bruises that you mentioned, which affect everybody, right? In this game of college football, it may have affected him from week to week. It does not affect him now. He fights through them."
It's not necessarily a reckless toughness, but a more calculated mindset. And it's been part of everything coming together in Jones' final year in South Bend.
"That's what you want out of your senior captain," quarterback Tommy Rees said. "He's a guy that goes out there, takes hits, gets right back up and finds a way to finish games because he knows we need him out there to help us win."