Tupelo’s Jones grows into role on MSU defense

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

STARKVILLE – It was not an easy season for P.J. Jones, but it was a beneficial one.
Last year, the Tupelo product played as a freshman on Mississippi State’s defensive line, seeing his first action in the opener at Memphis.
“It was a thousand things running through my mind,” Jones said after Thursday’s practice, MSU’s eighth of the preseason. “I was like, man, what am I going to do, how am I going to get off the ball? I hope I don’t mess up.”
Once he started playing, the nerves dissipated. Jones had four tackles and recovered a fumble that night.
Still, it was a challenging season. Jones said he got “kind of smashed” the next week at Auburn, and Fletcher Cox – who’s now in the NFL – had to constantly keep his spirits up.
“I didn’t think I was going to make it. I ain’t going to lie,” Jones said. “Cox, he was a great roommate, he pulled me up. If it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t have been there.”
Jones went on to have a solid season as a backup, recording nine tackles in 12 games, with one start. He was one of just three Bulldog freshmen not to redshirt, and he feels that experience has helped him as he prepares for a bigger role this fall.
“The focus and speed and just being locked in, it’s a whole different dimension from high school,” Jones said. “I was coming out of high school, 18 years old, I’m playing against guys who are 23, 24, those are grown me, really grown men. It was a new experience.
“It was great for me. I got beat up a little bit, I did, but it was a learning experience.”
Experience counts
Defensive coordinator Chris Wilson, who also coaches the defensive line, is expecting more this season from Jones. It’s awfully crowded at defensive tackle, but last year’s experience should give him an edge.
Wilson said Jones’ “stock is really high” and noted the weight he’s put on. Jones, who was listed at 260 pounds at the start of last season, is up to 288 now. He’s bigger and, he said, faster.
And although just a sophomore, Jones finds himself guiding along freshmen like Quay Evans and Nick James, drawing on his experience to help them through tough times ahead.
“I was in their shoes just a year ago,” Jones said. “I try to stay positive and uplift them.”
brad.locke@journalinc.com