OXFORD – Dialing Jason Jones. Jason Jones Line 1, please.
Finally, the Ole Miss coaches called, and Jones, a veteran defensive player who knew his way around the back end of the depth chart much more than the front, was eager to answer.
Injuries and a general lack of productivity have had Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix experimenting with a number of options at end. Eventually one of those was Jones, a former linebacker turned end who has worked his way back from the third major knee surgery of his career.
In addition to the ACL he tore in his right knee in mop-up duty at Memphis as a redshirt freshman last year, size and speed have kept Jones’ from getting his much-anticipated call earlier. He stands 6-foot-2, and it’s taken time – now in his third year in the program as a sophomore – to bulk up to 250 pounds.
“Jason Jones might not be measurable in height, weight, and speed, but he makes up for it with heart,” Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said. “He plays hard and gets turnovers for us. The turnovers that we get, he gets most of them. I appreciate his attitude and his heart.”
Experience has taught Jones to make the most of every snap and not only on game days.
It’s mantra repeated so often by coaches that it risks becoming stale to many players – until they spend time away from the game and better understand the frailty of opportunity.
Jones tore the ACL in his left knee in high school – twice.
It was the second injury and the subsequent rehab that most impacted Jones’ life. Also a standout basketball player, he had decided to give up on sports before his team chaplain reached out to him.
“He tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I’d ever been saved,” Jones recalled. “I didn’t make the decision to start back playing. It was embedded in me after I started worshipping Christ. He gave me the confidence to play for his glory and not worry about anything else.”
Jones estimates he was healthy for only about half his career at Westover High School in Albany, Ga. It was enough for him to record 154 tackles and earn Class 3A all-state honors as one of the state’s top linebackers.
“It’s a blessing to still be playing,” Jones said.
Jones is not only playing, but playing well. His performance of late has been in line with a player who expects to be there, not a last-option call.
“The guy has come a long, long way in a short period of time,” teammate Jerrell Powe said. “He’s becoming a great football player.”
Jones has appeared in all 10 games, but only gradually did his role increase. He didn’t get the starting call until Louisiana-Lafayette. He’ll make this third-straight start Saturday at LSU, Louisiana’s un-hyphenated school.
In the last three games Jones has produced fumble recoveries against Auburn and ULL and two of the Rebels’ three sacks against Tennessee
He has seven tackles on the year, 3.5 for losses, 2.5 sacks.
Glancing at the depth chart at the end of his freshman season, and seeing young talent signed at linebacker, Jones thought a move to defensive end could be a good thing. He’d seen former teammate Chris Bowers get on the field that way.
However, he kept those thoughts to himself, but when Nix presented the opportunity he jumped at it.
“I thought end was something I might want to try,” he said.
Jones says the experience of the first two knee injuries helped him through the recovery of the third. He calls the comeback a “process” and noted the vast difference in an ACL rehab on the high school and college levels.
An honor roll student majoring in elementary education, Jones was savvy enough in August to read the depth chart again and understand his chances for meaningful playing time.
“In camp, I did not expect myself to be playing this much this year.
“But I made a vow to myself to be ready when my number was called.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal