Notre Dame football: Jones grows comfortable inside trenches
SOUTH BEND -- His teammates won’t let him call it a homecoming. They’d rather call Jarron Jones, a native of upstate Rochester, N.Y., a Canadian than aNew Yorker.
But as the Irish spend the holiday in New York City, the sophomore defensive lineman cherishes the opportunity to play a bowl game in The Big Apple.
“It's good to be going back closer to home. I kinda miss the East Coast,” Jones said. “I miss that atmosphere. Playing against a team that's in the East Coast, Rutgers, I'm pretty excited about that.”
A trip home comes only months after Jones finally found his fit at Notre Dame. A redshirt freshman season did little to reveal his future on the defensive line. He spent the year trying — and admittedly failing — to learn the “stud” defensive end position. He finally felt comfortable in the role heading into this season, but was then moved to the opposite defensive end spot behind Stephon Tuitt.
“I was just thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’” Jones said.
The answer came in the wake of Louis Nix’s knee injury. An already-banged up defensive front needed someone to take reps at nose guard. Jones took the challenge, but only after hesitation that bordered on fear.
“You can just see you have to be very physical to play that position,” Jones said. “I didn't want to be a part of that, just looking at Lou.”
Then Jones slowly started to find out his 6-foot-6, 305-pound frame could be beneficial at nose guard even if he didn’t look as rotund as Nix.
"I can use my advantages much better at nose guard,” Jones said. “I'm so much closer to the linemen, so it gives me a better push using my arms. I'm also right on top of the ball. I can't go offsides. As soon as the ball's snapped, I'm the first to see it. It's easier to read playing nose guard than it is to play at end."
Jones soon learned he preferred the congestion of the interior line to the isolation of the end. But his realization didn’t come without a low point. Following the Arizona State game, he was demoted to scout team to help prepare the starting offensive line. There he proved his dedication to his teammates.
“I'm not going to give up just because I'm not going into the game and someone else is going in ahead of me,” Jones said. “I still have a commitment to the team. All those guys in that locker room are my brothers. I still owe them a commitment.”
When November arrived, Jones thrived. He forced a fumble in the Navy game and matched the efforts of Tuitt and Sheldon Day with seven tackles against BYU. With a few strong showings to close the season, Jones has thrown his name into contention for next season’s vacancy at starting nose guard.
“Jarron is slowly getting to that point where we're feeling confident that he can go in there and compete at a high level,” said head coach Brian Kelly. “He still physically has to get stronger. His volume has to continue to grow.
“I feel pretty confident that he can go in there and do some good things for us in ’14.”
As he returns to the state where he blossomed into a coveted recruit, the uncertainty seems to have settled for Jones.
"I actually feel like I belong,” he said. The success makes everything a little bit more enjoyable.
“When I actually first moved to (nose guard), I hated it,” Jones said. “But now I've actually grown to love it. It's just a lot of fun being inside.”