Distance makes the heart grow fonder for Notre Dame's Jarron Jones

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Jarron Jones could very easily be wearing Syracuse colors instead of his Notre Dame blue and gold Saturday night at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

He loved then-defensive coordinator Scott Shafer — now the Orange’s head coach, relished the chance to play collegiately with cousin and childhood buddy Ashton Broyld, had friends on the school’s basketball and lacrosse teams.

But this was one instance in which Notre Dame’s distance away from a prospect’s home actually worked in its favor.

“The one thing why I didn’t go there (Syracuse) is that my mom could just come up there any time she wanted,” the Irish ascending junior nose guard said, laughing but totally serious. “So, therefore, I chose to go to Notre Dame.

“That was just one big factor. I didn’t want her popping up whenever she heard something bad about me. Just she’s crazy, that’s all that I can say. Crazy in a good way, but also crazy in a bad way.”

Lakiescha Jones and a gaggle of other relatives will make the five-hour drive from Rochester, N.Y., to the site of Syracuse’s off-site home game with the eighth-ranked Irish (3-0), an occurrence Jarron actually welcomes.

In fact, he appreciates his mom’s vigilance, even her football critiques, but Jones knew he was rough around the edges on and off the field when he arrived at Notre Dame. And he wanted the opportunity to work through those at his own pace and in his own way.

“I’m not really past that point,” admitted Jones, whose past academic misadventures kept him from building trust with the coaching staff on the field earlier in his career.

But the growth seems to now outnumber the growing pains, at least.

The 6-foot-6, 315-pounder has 12 tackles in ND’s first three games, with a couple of tackles for loss, three QB hurries (second on the team) and a forced fumble. And the number of snaps he’s been able to play have gone up from 30 vs. Rice to 36 against Michigan to 45 in ND’s most recent game, a 30-14 quelling of Purdue on Sept. 13.

“I’m trying to work toward 50 (snaps),’ he said, ‘because if I get 51, coach (Brian) Kelly said I can get a (helmet) visor. So there’s incentive to get up there.”

Syracuse also provides plenty of incentive. The Orange feature the best rushing attack ND has faced to date (19th nationally at 265 yards a game) and the best pass protection (sixth nationally, with one sack allowed).

“They look real good on film, very technically sound, very physical, so you know it’s going to be a challenge,” said Jones, whose younger brother, 6-3, 220-pound junior quarterback Jamir (Aquinas Institute), is already being ardently recruited by the school as a linebacker.

The Orange offense, though, will be without Broyld, Syracuse’s leading receiver, out with a leg injury suffered in Syracuse’s 34-20 home loss to Maryland on Saturday.

“I was kind of upset about that,” Jones said of the injury to his cousin. “We’ve been going back and forth every time we go home. We grew up together at the Boys & Girls Club, played in the same basketball leagues together.”

Jones doesn’t get home much anymore. The last time he did, though, he was invited to throw out the first pitch at a home game of Rochester’s Class Triple-A baseball team, the Red Wings. He also got to take batting practice.

“The pitch was pretty straight, but barely reached the plate,” he said. “I took my time. I didn’t want to throw it too hard and have it spike in the ground. I wasn’t going to be like Justin Verlander.”

Up until recently he had bruises on his hands from the batting practice session, one in which he says he missed a home run by 20 feet.

And Jones pays attention to the pain, including that of others.

His older brother, Matt, signed with Syracuse out of high school in 2008, but fell short of the admissions standards and ended up playing Division II football at Gannon University in Erie, Pa. Matt, a defensive lineman, was joined on Gannon’s team by another of Jones’ brothers, wide receiver Jonathan.

“Watching (Matt) go through that stuff with his SAT scores and not being able to go where he wanted showed me the importance of academics,” Jones said. “It’s not just about being good at football.”

But sometimes he needs to be reminded of that, and his mom is more than willing to provide that reminder.

“She knows her football, too,” Jones said. “It used to be so bad. She used to yell the wrong stuff when my brothers were playing, and I literally had to go sit on the other side of the bleachers, just so I wouldn’t be a part of it.

“But you should see her now. She came to my game when we played Rice, drove home, watched the game on TV and literally called me and gave me so many coaching points it was unbelievable. Good ones and (negative).

“But when I watched it, she was correct. Mom’s right for once.”