Both comment and attitude would have much of Bulldog Country responding hail yeah. Not least because it comes from an at-last-healthy P.J. Jones. His return to 100% active status in preseason is one more reason to hail the upcoming campaign for the Dog defense in particular and the Mississippi State team in general.
The senior defensive lineman is coming off playing all 2013 on a bum ankle, and spending spring training on the sideline. That alone would have Jones smiling about his final college camp, if only because (for now anyway) he doesn’t have to tromp around town and campus wearing that protective boot. But there is so much else about this month to make Jones happy. He returns to his tackle slot in the midst of what should be a superb Bulldog defense, alongside other outstanding veterans and with no lack of depth and developing talents.
Of course this also means even an old Dog has to pick up the senior pace just to stay atop the depth chart. Further good reason to enjoy restored health, to Jones, because 2014 is the year he’s been building to since arriving at State in 2011 and getting thrown into instant action.
How is your preseason so far? “It’s going pretty well. Coming off my injuries, I couldn’t really push off last year. Coach Turner has pulled me to the side and said I’m looking pretty fast out there so I guess that’s a good thing. I think I’m having a good camp. Seeing a couple of guys go down in the scrimmage the other day it kind of flashed-back in my mind, dang I know how those boys feel. I just can’t think about the injury aspect of football, I just have to go out there and get better every day.”
Did it still feel good to get back out there after missing spring? “Yeah, it feels good not to be in the Pit doing push-ups and sit-ups the whole day, you know?! Football, you really can’t take it for granted. Because everybody knows it’s a dangerous sport, one of the most dangerous sports I think in the world and you just can’t take it for granted. You’ve got to go out there every day and if you think about getting hurt, you’re going to get hurt. You just play as fast as you can and go as hard as you can and let God take care of the rest.”
You got hurt at the end of (2013) preseason camp and played through it? “Yeah, me and Coach Turner talk about that all the time. He’s was telling me he’s not a doctor, he doesn’t know how I feel. I’ll say well Coach I’ll give you my best. I played Oklahoma State and then I missed Alcorn; then I came back Auburn and missed Troy. In my mind, I was like I know I’m going to be hurting anyway, so I just played through it all year. Thank God I had guys like Chris (Jones) and those guys to back me up. I did what I could last year.”
Do you still wear the boot around campus? “Oh no, I’m out of the boot. I don’t even want to think about it!”
How does it feel to walk around without it? “Aww man, it feels so good! I used to have a scooter riding around campus, I couldn’t even do that. I don’t even want to think about it.”
Did you keep it for a souvenir? “Nah, I threw that away. I hate that thing!”
Do you approach the senior season with a sense of urgency? “Yeah, kind of. I do have a lot of sense of urgency. It’s like yesterday, I tried to tell the younger guys time really does fly by. I remember when I first got here this whole building wasn’t even here, we were over there in that little small building. We’ve done come a long way. I was like dang, this is my last go-round, this is my last fall camp as a Bulldog. So I really want to make an impression on the young guys and show them how I grew up, the way where I’ve come from to where I am now. It’s just hard work and dedication.”
This building and the stadium happened during your time, what does that mean as a player to help get this built? “It’s kind of special to me. Because I just feel the guys who are coming in now they didn’t have to go through the rough times. I call them the dark ages! Before this building was here and we had all this nice stuff, nice training room, nice facilities. The other place was nice but nothing like this obviously, y’all know that. And the add-on to the stadium, we were scrimmage and I was like man it is going to be sooooooo live August 30! I’m just excited to be playing in this stadium, happy to get it going.”
Which jumbotron will you be looking at? “I’ll probably look at the one by the locker (room), I like that one. They’re the same size? The one with the big frame, yeah I like that one.”
It isn’t just new buildings, since you came as a freshman the defensive line has been rebuilt? “Oh, man, talk about that now. I had to play at 270, that was bad. It was like when I first came in there wasn’t a lot of depth. So basically Coach Mullen was like listen, you’ve got the skills, you’re going to play. I was like whaaaaat, I ain’t going to redshirt? I mean it was a learning experience for me. There were some rough days my freshman year. I came in at like 240 pounds and now I’m 300 so I developed, I mean a lot a lot. It was just rough on me. I remember Alabama and LSU, those two (2011) games, whew. I got did-bad, it was bad.”
How did you deal with that? “I kind of just said let’s go. At some point you’ve got learn and everybody is not talented like Chris Jones, just walk out there and do that. I was like, this kid just walks out there and does that and I got killed! But that’s God’s blessing to him, I tell him all the time man you’ve got something special. Now if I was to walk out there as a freshman it wouldn’t happen like that!”
”So I just tell people not to take it for granted, you know.”
Coach Turner said you hadn’t played for a long time, how do you get acclimated again? “Well, me and Coach Turner talk. I started off rough the first couple of days, he was telling me P.J. you’re not looking like your old self. I had to remind him the last time I really played was Rice. He kind of sat-back, like you’re right! I was like yeah, give me some time! Now he thinks I’m doing pretty good and I think I’m doing good. Football is like riding a bike, once you’ve got your technique down and know what you’re doing you get back on you might be a little rusty. But once you get going you’re good.”
How do you want people to look back at your career? “I want people to say P.J. was a good football player. He was a tough guy. I’ve been hurt. I hurt my elbow my sophomore year, last year I hurt my ankle. Just that he was a team player, and played some good football here and contributed to the Maroon and White nation.”
What is next for you? “Hopefully training for the NFL. I think I’ve got the skill set to go to the league, get a shot. Playing in the SEC, I was talking to Vick (Ballard) about it, what is the biggest difference. He said playing in the SEC really got him ready because playing against Johnny Manziel and all those guys, dudes from LSU, Bama. I mean they just went to the NFL, I was playing against them on Saturdays. I’m like you know what, if they can go out there I can go too. The talent level in the SEC West is NFL talent, I believe.”
Does it make you nervous being healthy, worrying when it is going to hit you again? “Yeah, that’s another thing. I’m hurting right now standing up! I do want to sit down but I’m here to give y’all interviews!”