Standing on Firm Foundation

Ben Jones has been winning over rooms for years. And he does so by simply being himself.

BIRMINGHAM - The Alabama drawl may not be that much different than the accents from counterparts offered by other Southern states.

In the "Big Room" at the Wynfrey Hotel during SEC media days, there are plenty of media members, usually a couple hundred at any given time—each characterized with their own native sound when they pose questions into a microphone directed at coaches on the podium.

In saying that, a unique voice posed a question to Mark Richt Thursday morning—different in attitude, already confident in the response he would get.

"Ben Jones. Georgia. Coach Richt, do you trust the offensive line this year?"

Surely a player has asked a question in the Big Room before—although nobody immediately sitting near Jones could recall it actually happening.

For a group sometimes called critical and jaded, Jones' question was met with laughter and amusement.

But that's no surprise—the senior center has been winning over rooms for years. And he does so by simply being himself.

"When Ben first got to Athens, he was going to bed at 8:30 at night," said former offensive lineman Clint Boling. "We found out pretty quick he wasn't like everyone else."

Yes, Jones was different—and still is. He's currently the only player on the Bulldogs' roster from the state of Alabama—something he takes great pride in. Noticeably comfortable at the Wynfrey, Jones was logging interviews about 45 minutes from where he grew up in Brent, Ala.

"We got like four fast food restaurants and a super Wal-Mart," Jones noted. "We've got two red lights now because we got the new Wal-Mart, so they added one."

Tuscaloosa is a short drive away, but Brent, located in Bibb County, is one of the smallest areas, in terms of population, in the state. There are roughly 36 people per square mile in the county, falling vastly short of the state average (94.2). Regardless, Jones loves where he's from. And he's not afraid to tell his teammates all about the "Yellowhammer State," or the "Heart of Dixie" as it's also called.

Ben Jones and QB Aaron Murray celebrate after a touchdown in 2010. (Dean Legge/Dawg Post)

"I was telling (Aaron) Murray and (Brandon) Boykin this is the greatest state in the world here," Jones said. "'Sweet Home Alabama'—I always sing the song before the games and they say it's my country stuff. I love my roots, where I'm from. Alabama is a great place."

Jones also enjoys taking his teammates to his old stomping grounds. Every spring, Jones hosts trips back to his family's farm and hunting land. The list of guys who have made the pilgrimage is long—but there are a few who probably resembled fish out of water. Kevin Perez, a native of Miami, made more than one trip out, and Arthur Lynch, originally from Massachusetts, went once. The experience is…well; it's distinctive to say the least.

"First we went to his house," Boling, now with the Cincinatti Bengals, said. "It's like two miles on a gravel road to get to his house. He's showing us all of these guns. He was like: ‘Take this one. Take that one.' Then we are standing on the porch, and they are setting up target practice from there to shoot at."

"Cordy (Glenn) and Clint Boling—they'd never shot a gun," Jones says laughing. "And they get there and they were like, ‘You're shootin' off your back porch!' I said, ‘We have 300 acres around the house, so I don't think we're going to hit anybody Clint.'"

"Cordy didn't know how loud it would be," Boling said. "He shot it, but it was so loud that he went to cover his ears, and then he was pointing the gun at everyone because he was trying to cover his ears."

You get the picture—the scene has the feel of a bunch of college boys having some good old fashioned fun—a group that couldn't possibly hurt anything (other than maybe themselves) out in the woods.

"The year we went to Shreveport (2009), I think we had 20 people stay at my house, and my uncle has a hunting lodge that sleeps 15 to 20 there," Jones said. "It was on the way—it was halfway there—so we stopped there and stayed for the night and my momma cooked for everybody."

"The Ghost House, which is a hunting lodge, was a kind of a scary house," Boling said. "It was just an older house and I think the electricity is on and off. We'd shoot skeet out there, too."

Considering Ben's insistence that players keep coming out to his farm, it's obvious he's comfortable in his own skin; his own environment.

Understandably, Athens was an adjustment for Jones when he enrolled early in 2008.

"It was a big shock to me," he remembers. "I remember telling Clint and some of the guys it was like New York City to me. There were all these restaurants and stores. I said what's this traffic? I live 15 minutes from school, and I might not see a car the whole way there."

But it didn't take long for Ben to win over the room in the Classic City, so to speak. He quickly became the starter at center as a true freshman, taking over one of the most important jobs on the team, all while snapping to the most talented quarterback in the program's history—Matthew Stafford.

Ben Jones and QB A.J. Green celebrate a touchdown against Tennessee in 2010. (Dean Legge/Dawg Post)

"I'll never forget when we were recruiting this guy," Richt said. "He got in our camp. We're doing a little pass-rush drill, and he's just whooping everybody. Finally, I stepped in and I said, ‘Look, I want every defensive lineman to line up. One by one, I want you to go against Ben, play after play after play.' After about I don't know how many, 10 or 12, he was finally exhausted and somebody beat him. But he is a fierce competitor. He's mean as a snake on the field, but he knows what he's doing. He's a great leader. He's a great football player. I'm glad we got him."

"Ben took it to A.J. Harmon pretty good—just pushed him all over the place at camp before his senior year in high school," Dean Legge, publisher of Dawg Post, said. "A.J. was supposed to be the best defensive lineman in the state and Ben just killed him. That's where he earned his offer."

Recruiting camps, the offensive line, media days—wherever Ben Jones is, he thrives. The Georgia locker room is no different. Richt has told a story in the past about a photo that was pinned to the wall in a meeting room at the Butts-Mehre complex. In the picture, a baby is laying on a big, fat farm pig's belly.

Somebody had written ‘Ben Jones' and drawn an arrow pointing to the baby.

"I thought they were kidding," Richt said. "But it was Ben alright."

"They always give me a hard time and call me a country bumpkin," Jones said. "I always get all that. But (after visiting) they said, ‘Man, this is nice. We could get use to this.' I said this needs to happen every year. This is relaxing. You could sit there and not hear a car coming by, just hearing nature and everything that is around you. It's definitely a big change for them."

When it came time to dedicate the new football facilities this spring, the Georgia athletic association had a number of people speak. A player rep was needed, and naturally, Jones was chosen.

"That was definitely a big honor," he said. "I called my mom and she said, ‘Why did they choose you?' She said, ‘You have Boykin and (Drew) Butler who are like communication majors who could have given a great speech.' I just thought it was a great honor. I actually had my eyes dilated, so I couldn't even read the speech. I had to just speak straight from my heart. I got up there and just winged it."

He got up there and won the room over by winging it—which is another term for just being himself.

Ben Jones leads his offensive line at Kentucky in 2008. (Dean Legge/Dawg Post)

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