"I'm ready to see how I play on the field. I feel we're starting to look the part, now it depends on how we play. How we compete and get ready for that first game."
Right, and back to that looking-the-part part... Jones, a sophomore middle linebacker, was one of the varsity Bulldogs who took part in the summer women's football clinic directed by Dan and Megan Mullen. His role was assisting in giving the distaff fans a look at what goes on in actually preparing to play a Mississippi State game, starting with the Dogs' own private kennel. Their locker room.
"It was a great opportunity," Jones says. "It was something fun to do, something to give the female fans the opportunity to see everything that goes on. Show how we get dressed, how we get all these pads on, and everything that goes into getting ready for a football game." It was likely an eye-opener for the special guests to discover that it takes these college boys longer to get their game garb on than any female fan, despite having it all picked and placed for them. And that in their own way players are every bit as vain about how they look for kickoff as any coed could be.
Using Jones was a wise choice, too, because he had some prior experience. Not a good one entirely, but preparation all the same. "We did it in high school one time for a pep rally, and it was ridiculous. It got out of hand kind of, people started coming on the court and getting a little closer than they should have been so we had to cut it short."
As much fun as his day on the, umm, dogwalk? was Jones hasn't had any problems sticking to the real business of his second Mississippi State summer. The Springdale, Ark., product played as a redshirt freshman last fall in all twelve games and even drew one starting assignment. That was against Southeastern Louisiana a week after Jamar Chaney's injury. The rest of the year Jones did backup duty on defense and saw more action on special teams, ending up with ten tackles. Not a huge tally but it's just the start of a long and hopefully productive career.
To make it so Jones has attacked the spring and summer strength programs with vigor, as well as reshaped his body noticeably. Oh, his current weight of "between 237-240 every day" as he reports is not much more than the 235 he played at as a rookie. "No, that's not the whole story," Jones adds. What he has done is take off around a dozen pounds, maybe more, of needless flab and replace it with fighting weight.
"We did body fat the other day and I weighed in at 8.5% body fat. That kind of put a smile on my face and felt like I was doing everything right." In fact Jones says he got up as high as 242 at one point and did not feel quite right; now with Coach Matt Balis' direction and input from the training room staff he's fine-tuning the physique for fall.
"You have to get used to it, and once I got used to weighing 237-240 is a good weight for me. Because I'm still so fast and I still feel I can do the things I need to do and still take on the powerful backs."
That's the regular duty of a middle linebacker in State's schemes. A spot, by the way, Jones never played in high school where he thrived as an outside ‘backer. He could likely do the same at this level but Coach and coordinator Carl Torbush has kept Jones in the middle for now. Had Chaney completed his normal schedule and not come back for an extra senior season Jones and Bo Walters would be battling for a starting job in August.
As it is, the two sophs begin camp as essential co-#2s at the mike spot. "I feel like right now we're even," Jones says. "Me and Bo, we're real good friends and we talk all the time, we work out together and push each other every day. When it comes down to it and it's a game situation, whatever Coach feels like is going to happen is going to happen."
Who knows, maybe those friendly feelings will be stressed when actual snaps are at stake. Yet from their first day in the Mullen/Balis program the Bulldogs have been matched against each other daily in lifting, running, as well as four spring weeks of practicing. And with few exceptions that all-out competition has only served to meld most of these parts into a summer unit. A paradox, perhaps, but still very real. Or maybe its just that the Dogs have been pushed so hard for so long now they have to stick together, just like on a game day
"It was something real intense," Jones says of how the players developed in this system. "Every day we were competing hard, every day we were going hard and challenging each other. It was something we grew to love, something we liked doing. It's in our blood now, so I feel in the spring and off-season we worked hard. We worked hard on the weekends, something we didn't used to do." Make that, something State players didn't absolutely have to do in previous summers. It's still voluntary…but there sure are a lot of folk showing up on Saturdays here in 2009. Jones knows why.
"It's kind of like if you don't come you're letting everybody down. So even if its not things on the field, little things like just getting in the cold-tub, just stretching, taking care of the body and doing things you can."
As far as on-field things, Jones is making the successful transition from high school star to disciplined college role player. While every top prep talent does have to learn they can't do everything now that they used to, for defenders it seems a more difficult adjustment. Jones agrees. "In high school I could be on the other side of the field and something mess up in my zone, and I could go catch that person and still make that play.
"But now, you need to stay where you are supposed to be. And you need to know exactly what the safeties and the cornerbacks, what the defensive line is doing. And what the other linebackers are doing so you know exactly where to be. Because if you get two steps out of your zone that play could be a touchdown here in this league."
Notice the emphasis on awareness of what his ten cohorts are supposed to be doing. That's something Torbush is stressing for this squad in general and his linebackers in particular. Oh, and Jones enjoys having the overall coordinator as his personal coach.
"That's real good because when we go out to practice and a change is made, we're going to know it! And we're going to know the situations that he's thinking of." Advance knowledge if you will. But in the end it all has to be shared around if the defense is to function. Jones says if there is any one significant difference between the previous staff's system and what the Dog linebackers are doing now, it is how they communicate as a unit.
"The way we all have a job. It's not just the mike linebacker, it's the sam and the will. They all have different jobs and different checks, and the communication and way we run around. And I just feel the way we're going to be able to play is going to be totally different, it's not going to be the same as the past. It's still going to be physical, we're still going to run, but it's going to be…you're just going to have to see. And when the fans see it they're going to love it and it's going to be good."
Going to look good, too. Certainly Jones can't wait to pull on that nifty new uni and show it off to a few-score thousand folk on the first Saturday afternoon of September, before getting it good and dirty by knocking down a bunch of Tigers. That's his kind of fashion State-ment. And who knows, the business major muses, there might be something more in the modeling line someday.
"If pro football doesn't work out maybe I can see what goes on with that! I might give Under Armor a call after college is over with and see if I can get one of those commercials." Now that would be worth a look.