By Brad Locke
STARKVILLE – P.J. Jones has had plenty of reasons not to smile over the years, but he’s in a very happy place right now.
The concept of family was a jagged one for Jones growing up. He moved from a rough area of Detroit to Tupelo in 2007 and didn’t have a father figure there to guide him.
The road to becoming a man has been rocky, but Jones is on solid footing now at Mississippi State, where football has given him what other areas of life haven’t. That’s why the junior defensive tackle has an easy smile and an endless amount of gratitude.
“We’re a real family here at Mississippi State, and that’s something I really never had growing up,” Jones said. “I just embraced it. I try to come with a positive mindset every day. Where would I be without this sport?”
That’s not a pleasant question to ponder, but Jones doesn’t have time for what-ifs. He’s too busy soaking up the college experience, the SEC experience – even the hard parts.
In fact, he embraces the struggles that are inherent in the life of a college football player, and he treasures what they produce.
Bond of brothers
“The bond that you have with your brothers and the grind – two-a-days, going through all those summer workouts in 110-degree heat, all that running and training just for 12 opportunities. And then for you to go through all that pain, all that hurt, just to come together for very few opportunities, it’s something special, in front of all those fans,” Jones said.
He only got nine opportunities last year. Jones hit a rocky patch in the offseason and was suspended for the first four games of the 2012 season due to an unspecified violation of team rules.
Head coach Dan Mullen said that’s been the only real discipline problem he’s had with Jones, and that it comes with an asterisk.
“I know he had one hiccup, which the reality of that whole thing is very questioned in how everything shook out with it for him,” Mullen said. “So I’ve never really had a discipline issue with him, and he’s been a guy that just has a tremendous work ethic. I love guys that do that.
“There’s a lot of people out there who can look and say, hey, because of my background, I have every right not to succeed. He’s never let that prevent him from succeeding.”
Passion for game
As a part-time starter last season, Jones (6-foot-3, 295 pounds) recorded 16 tackles. With the departure of Josh Boyd, he’s now moved to the top of the depth chart.
After seeking guidance for so many years, Jones is now trying to provide it to younger players, like Quay Evans and Nick James.
He tries to make sure they understand that there has to be passion for the game in their approach.
“You’ve got to want to learn, you’ve got to want to come to get better,” Jones said. “It’s got to be right here in your heart. It’s got to be something you love to do.”
Jones can draw on his early experiences at MSU, when he was getting pushed around by LSU offensive linemen and feeling like he’d never figure it out. He kept working, got stronger, got better.
And he learned the value of having a family that’s there for him every day, working in concert toward a common goal.
“You get to work with so many different people, and all the different personalities,” Jones said. “It’s interesting just to figure out people. It’s a pretty cool deal.”