A Gentle Giant No More?

Honesty can be refreshing in an interview subject. It can also be revealing.

Take the case of Jarron Jones, the 2013 Irish sophomore that had rarely found the college football field a welcoming place prior to his first extended action last November.

"(Before) the BYU game, I was like, 'Why the hell is he putting me in?' said Jones of his coaching staff. "There was one play against Pitt (the week prior) where it looked SO BAD. I had a free run at the running back and I just stopped because I thought he was going to cut back. And it looked so bad on film. I was like, 'I'm not playing next week.'

"The next thing you know, I was playing most of the snaps (against BYU). I realized right before the game, 'You want to keep playing this game. You want to be an eventual starter and someone that people can count on, so you have to go out here and make the most of this game.'"

Jones had to play, senior starter Louis Nix was lost for the season due to knee surgery during game week preparations and senior nose guard Kona Schwenke was unavailable due to a severe ankle injury.

Yesterday during the weekly Wednesday interview session with Irish players, Jones admitted nerves both prior to and during his first stint of extended action in that November 16 Senior Day win over the Cougars.

"I was in the hotel (Friday night), like 'Gosh, I'm playing most of these snaps, what am I going to do?' After I made that first tackle -- because I was nervous the whole time before that -- after I made that first tackle, I was like 'Okay, game on.' And I just started playing football after that."

And he played well, recording seven tackles including four that limited Cougars runners to one yard, plus what proved to be a game-clinching block of a BYU field goal attempt (pictured) late in the fourth quarter.

A 180 -- Literally

From wishing he were home with his fellow redshirted freshmen to team captain aspirations. That's the remarkable journey of Jarron Jones over the last 23 months.

"I was on the travel team, so that kind of sucked," said Jones last fall looking back at his 2012 freshman season, one in which he dressed for road games but never appeared in a contest. "Everyone else who was redshirting got to stay back and kind of enjoy themselves while I was sitting there trying to be mentally locked in, thinking I was going to play when we all knew I wasn't.

"I was like, 'Do I really want to do this anymore?' I just wanted to be a regular kid again, have fun."

His fun now comes between the lines and the full-time dedication that's part of it.

"I'm a 100 times the man now that I was last year. (I'm) more mature, I grew up. Learned how to have a focus in each practice instead of looking just to get through practice. I look at film now and will say, 'Okay, I see I struggled trying to do this, so you know what? I'm going to work at this today.' And that's my focus so I can eradicate that mistake.

"That helps me build my game little by little. It lets me know after each practice that I've gotten better. Even if it's just a small bit better, eventually over three weeks, that's a large lump sum."

Jones, all six-foot-five, 315 pounds of him, faces another large lump sum in the near future: i.e., the total snaps he'll be asked to play over 12 games in 14 weeks. He had fresh legs when he debuted last November, but in 2014, he'll be like the rest of the college football world as the season progresses -- not at his physical best.

"Yeah, I'm up to it. It's always going to be a challenge," Jones admitted of the increased work volume. "You just have to have the mental toughness that say, 'Hey, I can do this.'

"Either you're mentally weak or you're mentally strong and I feel that I'm mentally strong enough to handle this challenge."

Mental strength and Jarron Jones had no association in season's past. But for 2014, the junior with three seasons of eligibility remaining is focused on the future, both near and distant.

"I want to eventually be a captain here or be considered a leader, someone that people can count on so I welcome that as a challenge," he said.

Asked where he's received this inner strength as he enters his upperclass years, Jones offered, "It comes from me challenging myself instead of just getting through things. Instead of just being 'a fly-by' I'm actually having goals for myself and I want to meet them.

"There's that drive I bring to practice every day," Jones said before adding, "that I try to bring to practice every day, because I can't just sit here and lie to you and say that I do bring it to practice every day. But I try to bring it to practice every day."

Effort. Determination. Self-aware. And a heaping helping of honesty. That's Jarron Jones, 2014.

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