SAN JOSE -- Jared Leaf saw enough college football on television last weekend to decide enough was enough.

"I need to be back out there," Leaf told himself.

That's what happened Wednesday when Leaf, a linebacker, participated in his first San Jose State football practice since his death-defying race through his burning apartment in April.

"I just felt like I was on vacation for a little too long," Leaf said of the time since the fire that left him with second- and third-degree burns and had him hospitalized for 40 days.

"I just needed to come get back in my element. I just wanted to be out there again, in whatever capacity I can be."

San Jose State University football player Jared Leaf, at center, is welcomed by teammates at San Jose State University’s Spartan Stadium in San Jose,
San Jose State University football player Jared Leaf, at center, is welcomed by teammates at San Jose State University's Spartan Stadium in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, July 24, 2014. (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group) ( LiPo Ching )

The Alhambra High-Martinez product donned a helmet for the first time since spring practice. He joined the team for warm-ups and participated in individual drills with his fellow linebackers, then did light calisthenics on the side during the team and contact portions of practice.

His work was limited, but his presence alone delivered a lift.

"That was a great pleasant surprise before practice seeing him out here," coach Ron Caragher said. "I didn't know that he was quite ready."

"It was good to see him back," linebacker Vince Buhagiar said. "I know he's been putting in a lot of hard work trying to get better, trying to get healthy. It's been paying off every day, and it's good to see him out there running around."


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Leaf, who was on the sidelines last Thursday for the Spartans' opener against North Dakota, hasn't ruled out a return to action this season. But he knows he has to ease himself into on-field work. He began running a couple weeks ago as his body begins to return to athletic shape.

"I haven't been doing super athletic things lately," Leaf said. "For me being able to do contact, I really have no idea. Time will tell. I think I'm pretty far away from it still."

He's not setting any limitations.

"I'm definitely holding hope," Leaf said of a late-season return. "I've already recovered so fast, so anything can happen. But I won't be super disappointed or surprised if I have to wait until next year. I've prepared myself whichever way it goes."

His main goal is to be ready physically the minute doctors clear him for contact.

The process is testing his patience. The junior didn't play last season, per NCAA rules, after transferring from Hawaii. He spent two years with the Rainbow Warriors, including a redshirt season in 2011, and saw limited action in 2012 with Hawaii.

Under normal circumstances, his eligibility would expire after the 2015 season. There could be an opportunity to appeal to the NCAA for a sixth season, but that process can't begin until his five years of eligibility expire.

Of course, if Leaf played at some point this year, that would eliminate that possibility.

Saturday's game

San Jose State (1-0) at Auburn (1-0), 4 p.m. ESPN2