Last season, whenever Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt was asked about the progress of the redshirt freshmen, there was always one constant.
Middle Linebacker Jason Jones was always at the top of the list of players Houston mentioned as being on the fast track to quick playing time once his redshirt season was completed.
As the spring training start of March 26th inches closer, Jones is already penciled in as the backup for junior Jonathan Cornell, the returning starter.
"Jason came in here last summer and has done nothing but work since he arrived. He pops up in every conversation the staff has about young players we are counting on," Nutt stated. "Our expectations are for him to get a lot of playing time in 2009 and to produce."
Those words by the chief of Rebel football suit Jones just fine.
It's what he's worked for, what he continues to work for and what he expects of himself.
"I just want to follow Jonathan's lead and absorb everything I can from him. I want to keep working hard so I can get my feet wet and help this team next season," said Jones, who is 6-2 and now weighs 240 pounds after reporting to Ole Miss at 222.
Jones has blossomed in the weight room during his eight months on campus and that has helped his play on the field.
"I went home after the Cotton Bowl and some people didn't know who I was," Jones smiled, obviously gaining some satisfaction from his progress. "The strength and conditioning coaches at Ole Miss are great. They get us stronger and faster.
"It's been great so far the way I have been able to transform my body. When I got here, I was trying to pack on the weight. Now, I'm trying to hold back. I was at 245 last week and Coach (Don) Decker said 'not a pound more - you have to go down.' So I did. The coaches want me between 235-240, so that is what I will do."
Jones hit the practice fields last August and immediately stuck out as someone who would mix it up in the trenches.
As he gained weight and strength, the punch he packed got heavier and the results kept turning heads.
"I can tell a difference in the force and power I have when I hit someone," he smiled. "That gave me confidence and helped me improve my techniques and tackling skills."
Jones does not know what his role will be in 2009 for sure, but he's up for anything.
"It's hard to say where I fit in right now, but I know I'm still learning. A lot of people don't realize the huge step it is from high school to college," Jones explained. "The speed of the game, the strength levels of the guys you are going against, the schemes, the techniques - there is a lot to learn.
"But with Coach (Tyrone) Nix and Jonathan teaching me what to do, I should be fine and I expect to play and make an impact."
The two areas Jason feels he needs to improve in come to his mind quickly.
"There's no doubt - reading skills and footwork," he said quickly. "Reading what offenses are doing quickly is vital to a middle linebacker. You have to react quickly and be in the right spots at the right times. I need to get that down."
Jason is a self-motivated young man, but he also takes leadership and gets a boost from his older teammates.
"Allen Walker, Patrick Trahan and Jonathan have motivated me a lot. There are times when you don't think you can do another lift and they are there to pick me up and get me through it," said Jason. "I appreciate that. Our leaders are great.
"They always encourage me and (fellow RS LB) Lakenwic (Haynes). Whether we do good or bad, they are always there pushing us in the right direction and keeping us going."
The 2009 season is still six months away, but Jason has a sense of urgency in regard to getting himself ready for the upcoming challenge.
"I feel I can do it. I feel I belong on this level, but I realize I still have a lot of work to do. It's just a matter of time," he closed.
Don't be surprised when spring rolls around and Nutt is still praising Jason Jones.
He's got the look, the skills and the desire to make things happen.
Jason Jones -
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