Josh Jones rebounded from an uneven sophomore season to shine in 2016. Jones and NC State are looking to finish off a back-and-forth campaign with a big win to help set up 2017.
The Wolfpack will take on Vanderbilt in the 2016 Camping World Independence Bowl is hopes of securing a third straight winning season. The journey to get there has had its ups and downs. That is a path Jones can relate to.
The promise of a solid freshman season was followed up with a sophomore campaign that did not quite live up to expectations for Jones. He responded in 2016 by earning All-ACC status and playing well enough to spark consideration for an early withdrawal from school to declare for the NFL Draft. NC State, although playing better of late, is not content with its current status and neither is the redshirt-junior.
"I feel I have made strides," Jones said. "I would say I'm never satisfied. I don't care if I was an All-American, man. I'm going to find something. I'm really hard on myself. I feel like even when I have a decent game, it's not perfect."
Jones feels that his team mirrors his approach.
"You just go out there and you look at everything you did during the season in 12 games and you just try to get better," Jones said. "You try to correct mistakes that you made, the technical errors, the missed opportunities we had and just go out there and correct them."
As for Jones, he has improved enough that there is speculation he may go pro. He thinks NC State has a bright future in 2017 and that is as far as he will currently take it.
"I haven't even thought about [whether to go pro yet]," Jones said. "I am just focused on getting better as a player. [The NFL] is not even in the conversation yet.
"Definitely 2017 is the year not only for this defense, but the whole team to take a huge step. I expect the defense to be, I don't know where we were at as far as ranking, but I expect us to be at least top-three in the nation."
The final test of 2016 for NC State comes in the form of SEC foe Vanderbilt who, like the Wolfpack, surged late to end the regular season 6-6 overall.
In the Commodores, Jones and the Pack will face a team that gives a variety of looks.
"They like to run the ball first and automatic, just play-action pass," Jones said. "They give you a lot of formations, a lot of movement. They will never line-up just in a formation and run it. It is nothing we haven't seen before. It's going to come down to reading our keys and executing."