Former Arkansas QB Matt Jones Recalls OT Thrillers in TD Club visit

Former Arkansas quarterback recalls playing in overtime thrillers during visit with Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club. Jones also explained his low-key approach and how that came about.

Former Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones tried to explain his low key demeanor in games by pointing to a learning experience in junior high when he played for his father. And, he recalled running plays he'd never practiced in some overtime thrillers.

And, Jones said he's heard from friends that still can't believe he's career choice, radio personality. No one expected that from a man who didn't really want to do any interviews.

Jones was the speaker Wednesday at the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club and handled the gig in question and answer format with Bo Mattingly, the club's executive director. Mattingly posed the question about his low key demeanor on the field.

"My pops was my junior high coach," Jones said. "There was a game early on when I got sacked and when I got up, I spiked the ball. He grabbed me by the face mask after that one. And, then after I scored a touchdown, I spiked it again. He explained to me that you should act like you've been there before, like you are supposed to score a touchdown.

"I think that was the main thing, just to act like you've been out there. My coaches in college were Roy Wittke and David Lee. They told me I was a leader by default because of the position. I think I was just playing the game the way my dad taught me, don't get too high or too low.

"But for anyone to think that I didn't care, I did. I competed in anything I did. I wanted to beat you if it was fishing, golf or anything else. I wanted you to tell me after we were done, you beat me. I played to win everything I ever did."

Clearly, basketball was his first love. He said that several times on Wednesday.

"I came to Arkansas because they were going to let me play both," he said. "I even thought about going over seas to play basketball after my NFL career was done. But the places I could go, were third world countries. I couldn't put my wife in that position. I had just gotten married so I didn't do that. Lebanon was one of the options."

The seven overtime game at Ole Miss was a case of taking over as a reserve. He had been a backup to Zak Clark, primarily running option plays.

"So when we got in the overtime and I stayed out there, some of the plays that were getting called in, I hadn't run in practice," he said. "So I'd look over at the receivers and say, 'George (Wilson), where are you going to be on this one. I don't know the play.' And, we'd just figure it out. That happened quite a bit.

"I liked overtimes. I thought, if you give me the ball on the 25 and give me four downs to make 10 yards, I didn't think anyone could stop us. I thought we could make that 10 yards every time."

Jones said it was supposed to be a redshirt season.

"I was 100 percent for redshirting," he said. "But Coach Lee called me in and told me I could help the team if I could run some option. So we'd have practice and have a couple of guys practicing the option with me, Mark Price and DeCouri Birmingham. The other players were running the regular offense and we were practicing option.

"The option is not something you can just go out and do. But those two guys had done it before, so that's what we did."

Jones said he cried after two losses, the first as a sophomore in basketball.

"It was in the state tournament," he said. "It was against North Little Rock when I was at Van Buren. We had four seniors and me."

Jones got fouled with his team down two points at the end of the game. He made the first free throw, but missed the second that would have sent the game into overtime.

"So I was crying afterwards because I knew that was the last time I would play with those guys and I had let them down,"he said. "The other time was when I fumbled against Texas. I felt like I had lost the game. We had put a whooping on them the year before and we had a chance to kick a field goal to win it. I fumbled and we didn't get the ball back."

Jones said he's a supporter of current UA coach Bret Bielema. He thinks his approach to building the team with strong line play is the right foundation.

"He's just getting started," Jones said. "I am a Coach B fan. His players play hard for him. Defensively, they lost their best four players and that's tough. They've had some injuries on offense. I knew losing Jonathan Williams -- and I think he's one of the top three backs in the league -- was going to hurt.

"What I will say is that he's been successful in recruiting out of state. What he needs to do is make sure he gets the best players in the state. That's when Arkansas is at its best. So he's lost some in-state players."

Jones knows that you don't have to have the top rated talent to win. He points to safety Tony Bua and receiver George Wilson as players not rated highly who helped the Hogs win in his time.

"They need a guy on defense now like a Tony Bua, someone who is going to make a play," he said. "I don't know who that guy is right now.

"Tony is a guy who wasn't rated highly. I'm not sure he was even a three star. But if you were starting a team, that's a guy I'd pick for my team. I think Tony is a guy who lacked the measurements. He was not as tall as you want and so he was under sized. And, he was a little bit too slow. But he'd be my first pick. I do remember a game when he made 22 tackles.

"George Wilson was a leader. He taught me how to lead. He was the ultimate leader. If I looked out there and saw him with a one-on-one matchup, he was the receiver I went to. I knew he would not let the guy on the other team catch it and he was going to get it most of the time. He had the work ethic.

"He was a guy who went to the NFL and became an All-Pro defensive back. I just don't know many people who could do that."

As far as positions, Jones said he always thought of himself as a quarterback, but shoulder trouble kept him from getting to do much aside play the position in college. He finally had his shoulder fixed a few weeks ago. He wore a sling Wednesday.

"It's a torn labrum in the front, torn in the back and the bicep was torn," he said. "I did that when I came back to football after basketball my freshman year. I had missed a week of spring practice and Coach Lee just was trying to get me caught up. I threw too much and tore it.

"It was never the same. When I was in high school, I know I could throw the ball 70 yards. But after the injury, I doubt I could ever throw it 50 again. I could practice quarterback one day a week after that."

Why didn't he get it fixed in college?

"Dean Weber, our trainer, and I went to see James Andrews in Birmingham," Jones said of the famed shoulder surgeon. "He told us that there was only a 20 percent chance I could ever throw again after surgery. That wasn't good enough odds.

"I finally have gotten where I couldn't stand it anymore. I couldn't play golf. I couldn't play catch and I couldn't fish. So I decided I better get it done just to do normal things again. It's gone well so far."

Jones was asked about his time playing other positions, including wide receiver in the NFL.

"The first position I ever played was offensive guard," he said. "I was in the fifth grade and went out for Pop Warner. I was late to the first practice and the coach asked me what position I played. I said quarterback or wide receiver. He said, 'We've already got someone at those two. Get in there at guard.' Now that wasn't a great idea. I wasn't ever going to hit someone. But my first year, I played guard and cornerback."

His first position in the NFL was the slot position, more of a flexed tight end.

"I played there my first year and I probably should have stayed there," he said. "My second year I moved out to the X and that seemed exciting to me, but you are going to get the best cornerback there. Looking back, maybe I should have just stayed as a slot guy."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories