After making 91 tackles a year ago while playing football at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, the only thing freshman defensive end Neal Jones is tackling on Saturdays in the playbook.
"It's a little difficult not playing this season," said Jones, who is redshirting the 2005 season. "The first couple of games were the hardest. I wasn't used to it coming from high school and playing every down. It's been a learning experience. I see how difficult college is and how different it is from high school now. Even the crowd is something you have to see for yourself. It's still football, but it's a little bit different in college."
When Indiana travels to Ann Arbor, Mich., this weekend, Jones won't even be on the sidelines. As a redshirt, he won't be a part of the Hoosiers' travel team and will be left behind in Bloomington to watch the game on television.
"It's the most difficult watching away games on TV," said Jones. "Those are my boys and I want to be there with them to root them on win or lose."
Jones is one of the five recruits Indiana head coach Terry Hoeppner brought in from the state of Florida, and he could be part of a very talented defensive line of the future for the Hoosiers. In addition to Jones, Indiana also has fellow Floridian Jamie Kirlew along with defensive tackles Todd Newman and Emile Bass redshirting, all of whom have shown they're loaded with potential.
As a prep senior, Jones posted 91 tackles, 10 sacks, six forced fumbles and five pass breakups. Now he is learning what he'll have to post high marks at Indiana.
"I love Coach Hep," said Jones. "He's a real cool coach and he talks to us all the time to check to see how we're doing. His office door is always open, never closed. We can call him all the time. He's always there for us. He has made the first half of this season great for me. It's been a real learning experience for me. Coming in from high school into a new system with new coaches, it's been really educational for me."
With an upperclassman-laden line, Jones has more than just the coaching staff to help him along his development.
"All the older guys help me," said Jones. "Whenever we're in defensive line drills, they'll stop me and tell me something that they think will help me along. They've learned a lot through the last few seasons and I take whatever advice they give me. They help me out more than I could know right now."
At 6-4 and 240 pounds Jones is about 20 pounds away from the weight he'd like to play at in college, which has him pushing himself in the weight room.
"I'm hitting the weight room as much as I can," said Jones. "The weight is coming along good, so that will be fine. I'm also working to get quicker. Those two things will help me become a better defensive end."
Jones is also one of five freshmen that Coach Hoeppner recruited for the defensive line before the 2005 season, something that could prove valuable for the future of the Indiana defense. Allowing the line to come in together and develop as a unit should make them a fearsome group.
"There's a lot of excitement and there's just a good feeling knowing we're going to be around for a while, have a good friendship and have a good line coming up," said Jones. "In two years, maybe even next year, we can come together and get on the field. We know each other so well and know each other's strong points, if we work together we get even better."
Working together has been the key since this group stepped foot on campus before fall camp. While the results are a long way from being put on display, nothing will stop Jones and this unit from working hard to get there.
"We are a pretty close unit on the defensive line," said Jones. "It's not just us young guys, either. We're even close with the guys that will be leaving after this season. We all understand what we need to do as a team and even more importantly what we need to do as defensive linemen. The game starts and ends with us. We hangout every weekend and see each other all the time. Everyone is close.
"We're challenging each other every second. In the weight room, on the field and in the classroom. We're always after each other, everyday, in every way."
Bright Future For Redshirt Jones
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