Jones Leads Way Amidst Position Battles
GREENVILLE, N.C. — While a number of surprises inevitably occur during the course of a college football season, one thing that won’t shock anyone will be Isaiah Jones’ familiar No. 7 jersey lining up in the slot. With Justin Hardy now a member of the Atlanta Falcons, Jones, who has been looked at as the obvious successor to the FBS all-time receptions leader since his arrival on campus two years ago, is poised and ready to lead the way on a deep Pirates receiving core. “I take great pride in being a great leader,” Jones said. “It’s one of my goals, something that I want to do. Great leaders left last year and I’m looking to step up and take over that role so I’m doing the best I can to help these guys.” Cedric Thompson, Quay Johnson and freshman Deondre Farrier are all vying for time in the second slot position, across the line from Jones. Meanwhile, tight ends Bryce Williams and Steve Baggett have seen their roles increase, as coaches have been willing to move the big-framed targets off of the line and into the slot as well, bringing competition to a peak. “There’s a really good position battle going,” inside receivers coach Donnie Kirkpatrick said. “I like to play about five guys and rotate them. There’s a lot of different formations. There’s a good battle going on between Deondre Farrier and Quay Johnson. I’m really pushing for both of those guys to come out and push it and play a little bit faster. I think the competition is making them both a little bit better.” With Farrier, the one time Florida commit, and Johnson duking it out for the starting job, Williams and Baggett have proven valuable for Kirkpatrick, as the coach mentioned the ability to move them in the slot, in the backfield and on the line. But while the battle rages on, likely all the way up until the first game against Towson, Jones remains a stalwart in the slot. The junior’s maturity and experience have meant a lot to the team and his reliable hands and deceptive speed have made him a fan favorite amongst the East Carolina faithful. His impact goes far beyond the Dowdy-Ficklen gridiron, though, and Kirkpatrick’s trust in the receiver has only made life easier on him. “I wouldn’t be able to get up in the morning and come to work if it wasn’t for him, right now (Jones) is our guy,” the 11th year coach said. “He’s a great leader, and a very unselfish player.” In just two full years at ECU Jones has worked his way up the Pirates’ all-time receptions leader list, currently sitting sixth with 143 career grabs, and it doesn’t appear as if he’ll be slowing down. But a different version of the receiver could quietly turn heads in the upcoming season, as Jones has worked hard to improve the less-noticeable aspects of his position. “I’ve been very pleased that he’s come back and been a lot better blocker this year,” Kirkpatrick said. “He’s spent a lot more time in the weight room, getting bigger, getting stronger, so he’s a lot more physical this year.” Both Jones and Kirkpatrick came to the same conclusion when describing the identity of the receiving core. Blue collar and hard working, they said respectively. Jones hasn’t shied away from embracing the potentially new-look receiving style, either. “We’re a relentless group, a hard working group,” Jones said. “We have a lot of guys who don’t really get a lot of recognition but that play hard. They’re guys that are willing to just do their job and that’s just what we need to do.” Bridging the gap between Hardy and this year’s offense will be a tall task for Jones. His track record will only help the cause and it wouldn’t be erroneous to say that the junior receiver is the catalyst for this year’s Pirate team.
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