Arkansas' Freshman Front Runner

FAYETTEVILLE -- Sure, it was only one game. But at this rate, Felix Jones could soon become Arkansas' most proficient freshman running back.

Cedric Cobbs rushed for 668 yards in 1999 and Jones' 137 yards and a touchdown on eight carries in Saturday's season-opening 49-17 win against Missouri State means -- if he keeps it up -- he would surpass Cobbs' mark by the end of the Louisiana-Monroe game on Oct. 8.

Getting Jones, the reigning Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week, to brag on himself is tougher than stopping him in the open field. In fact, like trying to tackle him, it's almost impossible.

"He's always been like that," said Tulsa Booker T. Washington coach Antwain Jimmerson, who watched Jones rush for 2,282 yards 41 touchdowns on 205 carries last fall. "I've been going to church with him since he was little, so I've known him for quite awhile and he's always been an unselfish, team-first kind of guy."

It's true.

Just listen to the reasoning behind his opening performance.

"It takes more than one person to play this game," Jones said. "If you're a selfish person, your teammates aren't going to get behind you 100 percent on the field. They can easily just stop blocking for you and let you get hit in the backfield. You give them all the hype, because really, they're the ones that deserve it.

"If somebody is not blocking for you, I don't care who you are, you're not going to have much success."

Like Father, Like Son
Jones is a 6-foot, 195-pounder who could have been much bigger had Jimmerson not scaled back his weight room habits early on. Jimmerson said he wanted to keep his prized tailback a speedster like Carnell "Cadillac" Williams instead of a bruiser like Ronnie Brown.

Some say Jones has the traits of both former Auburn rushers.

"One thing people don't really know about him is that he'll run you over," said Hogs defensive tackle Michael Tate, who played at Booker T. Washington High School with Jones. "Everybody thinks that he's just a speed guy, but he'll tuck that head and run you over. Trust me."

The reason Jones had to be scaled back, according to Jimmerson, is because of his determination. He wants to be the best, no matter what it takes.

Jones broke his ankle in the opening game of his junior season. But he didn't miss the entire season. He returned to lead his team to the state playoffs with more than 800 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns.

"Doctors said they'd never seen anybody come back from an injury like that as fast as he did," Jimmerson said. "And it's because of how hard Felix works."

The drive and discipline comes from his father, Felix Jones Sr., a carpenter in Tulsa. Jones Jr. began working with dad, shingling roofs or whatever the job was that day, when he was six.

Laying Down The Law
Jones Sr. said his son got out of line only one time.

"He's always been a pretty good kid," Jones Sr. said. "I only had one run in with him when he was in grade school and I've never been back. I can't remember exactly what it was, but they had him in the office and they called me in to take care of him.

"After that, I never had to go back to school again."

Jones grew up in a rough -- some say the roughest -- part of Tulsa. He also went to Madison Middle School, which, Tate said, produces as many felons as scholars.

"It was an urban neighborhood, but growing up in my house is what was tough," Jones said. "That's where I get all my discipline from. My father would discipline us whenever it was necessary. I didn't really like it, but it was helpful. He whipped us at times when we needed it. He used a belt and man, it was tough.

"That's why you won't see me getting out of line to this day. That's why I'm still disciplined."

Jones Sr. said it was the way he was raised. With all the distractions that can affect a kid, he believed it was necessary to rule his three boys -- two older than Jones -- with an iron fist.

"I always told him when he was growing up, 'Don't worry about the police, you better worry about me,'" Jones Sr. said. "'If you ever do something that you're not supposed to be doing, you better look out for me. You get in trouble, you're going to deal with me.'"

Hoop Dreams
Jones almost didn't play football. In ninth grade, he wanted to be the next Michael Jordan, not the next Emmitt Smith.

"He came up to me and told me about it one day in church," Jimmerson said. "He said, 'Coach, I may not be over there with you (in football) next year.

"And I knew we couldn't have that."

Through some encouraging, Jones finally saw the Friday night light.

"I wanted to play basketball man," Jones said, shaking his head. "It was my dream and (Jimmerson) took that away from me. He told me I could be a good basketball player, but that I had the potential to be even better in football. I listened to him and I stuck with it.

"And I guess he was telling the truth."

By his senior year, college recruiters from across the country came calling. In the end, the list was pared down to Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas A&M.

Arkansas got a late start on his recruitment after former defensive coordinator Dave Wommack, who handled the Tulsa area, was fired. Fortunately, cornerbacks coach Bobby Allen -- one of the Hogs' top recruiters -- took over recruiting in Oklahoma.

Before signing day, Allen and the Razorbacks believed they locked up Jones' verbal commitment. But once the day arrived, rumors to the contrary were running rampant.

"The thing about Felix is it really got down to 8 a.m. on signing day, sitting there on pins and needles and wondering if the fax was coming through," Allen said. "There were so many reports coming out that he'd already signed with Tennessee and another that said A&M was all happy that Felix Jones was going to them. Then, when the fax came in at 8:15 or 8:20, we were just extremely relieved.

"We were very happy to get a young man like Felix."

Raising The Bar
Arkansas fullback Brandon Kennedy has opened holes for talented tailbacks like Cobbs and Fred Talley. But he says Jones is in a different class.

"Those other guys were kind of stubborn because they knew they were good," Kennedy said. "But (Jones) is ahead of his time. He does stuff now that Ced Cobbs and Fred Talley didn't do, even when they were upperclassmen. He listens to his fullback.

"I'm a senior so I know a lot of stuff that's going to happen before it's going to happen. I tell him a lot of techniques, where the hole is supposed to be, where the cut is going to be and things like that.

"And he listens to me and then hits it at 100 mph and breaks glass.

"He's humble and that's what will set him apart from the others when it's all said and done."

Teammates believe it, too.

"Felix runs smooth and he has great balance," said quarterback Robert Johnson. "When you hand the ball off to him, you have nothing to worry about because he always sees the right hole and makes people miss."

Darren McFadden, another talented freshman tailback, said watching Jones run inspires him to work harder.

"What I like about Felix is how he hits a hole," McFadden said. "As soon as he sees it, he hits it hard and is explosive and can make really quick cuts coming out of it."

Cobbs had eight carries in his freshman debut. So did Jones did last Saturday. Cobbs only gained 85 yards, an average of 10.6 yards per attempt. Jones averaged 17.1 yards per touch and finished with a team-high 137 yards. His 80-yard touchdown run -- on his second carry -- topped the longest touchdown run of Cobbs' career (58). It's also the longest since Talley sprinted 80 yards for a touchdown against Auburn in 2002.

It'll be tough to keep the current pace. But Jones could be heading for a record-breaking season if he stays healthy.

"I'm not worried about it," Jones said. "As long as we keep winning, I don't care how many carries or yards or touchdowns I get or if I break any records.

"This is a team sport."

And he's certainly a team player.

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