Jones Sees Hard Work Paying Off

It's been a roller coaster season for linebacker Anthony Jones but that hasn't stopped the senior from grinding every day. From starter to reserve and back to starter again, Jones' perseverance has been on full display over the team's last five games as he's elevated his play to become a key contributor. With only a few games left in his college career, Jones hopes to finish the season on top.

Originally from Picayune, Miss, Jones moved to the Valley at the age of 16 to live with his uncle where he attended Phoenix prep football powerhouse Chandler Hamilton High School. As a senior, ‘Mississippi" as he was nicknames by his peers was rated as the top linebacker in Arizona and led the Huskies to the 5A state championship.

After redshirting in 2009 and sitting out all of the following season, Jones played in 13 games on special teams for the Sun Devils in 2011. Last year, he saw action in 11 games as a back-up linebacker where he collected 27 tackles and recorded his first career interception in the team's loss to Oregon, which he returned 36 yards for a touchdown.

As a senior, Jones began year as the starting SPUR linebacker but the transition from back-up to starter was a struggle for him early on. Through the first six games of the season, Jones recorded just 10 tackles as he worked himself into his new role. However, over the last five games, the senior has seen a spike in his on-field production, recording 20 tackles while helping improve the defense's overall performance.

"It's just me being comfortable now," he said Wednesday after practice. "I mean, I've got the position down and feel like I'm in a groove now. I feel good with where I'm at but it's also, like, the scheme of the defense. I feel like now, I'm in a position where I can make more plays."

Not only is Jones making more plays to close out the year, but so is the Arizona State defense as a unit. Through the team's first five games, opponents averaged 30 points per game against the Sun Devils, which includes their 55-0 win over Sacramento State in the season opener. However, over the last six weeks, the defense is allowing a paltry 21.16 points per game as it's turned up the heat down the stretch.

For the season, Arizona State ranks 10th nationally in forced turnovers (26) and 18th overall in total defense (344.4 ypg).

"I think we've come together more as a family and it's like, when we get in certain situations, we just don't want people to score on us," remarked Jones. "It's a pride thing and we've taken on the personality of Coach Graham. We've just got to play hard, physical, and be passionate. That's what we've been doing and it's been paying off for us."

That mentality was put on full display last Saturday against UCLA at the Rose Bowl where the Sun Devils clung to a 38-33 fourth quarter lead over the Bruins but needed their defense to come up with one final stop to secure the win and their first Pac-12 South championship. Despite having already given up three touchdowns in the second half and appearing gassed as the final minutes waned, Jones said only one thing ran through the team's mind before the defense took the field.

"'Let's lock up, man. We can't let the same thing happen from previous years. We have an opportunity to do something great here so let's do it now. Let's do it our senior year,' he recalled. "So we did that and everybody stepped up and did what they had to do and we made a great stop."

Just as they had all night, the Arizona State defense applied pressure on junior quarterback Brett Hundley on the final series, which resulted in two sacks and a pair of offensive holding penalties. Behind the strength of their defense, the Sun Devils were able to hold on, ending UCLA's two year run as Pac-12 South champs while bringing the crown back to Tempe with them.

"It didn't hit me until afterwards. It was unreal," said Jones of the final drive. "And then we got over to the fans and everybody was going crazy and it was a great feeling. It's like, we have a chance to go to the Rose Bowl. A couple more wins to get to the Rose Bowl.

"9-2. I've never done this in my college career. Pac-12 South champions. This is what I put in all the hard work for, so it's all paying off."

While their place in the Pac-12 conference championship game on December 7th is secure, the Sun Devils still have business to take care this weekend when they play host to Arizona (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12) in Duel in the Desert. With a win, Arizona State (9-2, 7-1) can host the conference championship game against Stanford and perhaps more importantly, keep the Territorial Cup in Tempe for a second consecutive year.

The Wildcats are led by junior running back Ka'Deem Carey, who has already rushed for 1,559 yards and 16 touchdowns this season. Arizona, which upset Oregon last week in Tucson, 42-16, is averaging 33.8 points per game (40th nationally) in year two under Head Coach Rich Rodriguez.

"Ka'Deem Carey, he's a great running back," said Jones. "They have some solid receivers. They're a good offense. They've got a pretty good quarterback who can make some plays on the run. We've just got to play good defense.

"The rivalry is big time and it's like, I want to win it all. It's been a crazy year and finishing with a win over UofA would be great."

Saturday's game is also Senior Day for the Sun Devils, but Jones insists he's not ready to think about that. There's still too much to play for this weekend.

"It'll be emotional for me," he said. "Five years, man. This will be my last game, potentially, but I don't plan on it being my last one. But still, it'll be emotional."

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