Injured Notre Dame NG Jarron Jones adapts new form of leadership

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Gone, but certainly not forgotten.

No way. Takes more than season-ending knee surgery to muzzle the personality that makes Jarron Jones such a vital component of the Notre Dame football team.

This is a textbook example of adversity in college football, from a personal and team perspective.

The 6-foot-6, 315-pound nose guard, who will have one year of eligibility remaining, had just spent more than eight months rehabbing from a foot injury that cut last season short. Back to full speed, he sustained a knee injury Friday, in what coach Brian Kelly called a “freak deal.”

In the pure X’s and O’s of the situation, the Irish are much better equipped to absorb a hit like this than they were last season when Jones went down late. Plugging in Daniel Cage, a sophomore with experience, or freshman phenom Jerry Tillery should solidify the position.

Missing most with Jones on the sidelines will be the personality developed over the years and the leadership voice that has been cultivated.

Or… will it?

“He’s got a big personality. He’s going to be missed for a lot of reasons,” said Kelly. “We won’t miss his personality. He was already there (Saturday) joking it up with the guys. He’s a guy who needs to stay around the team. The team is very important to him.

“He won’t be too far away.”

Jones’ new role won’t be an easy one. Fortunately, he has a guy like Jarrett Grace to help him navigate the tricky turns.

Grace, a 6-3, 253-pound graduate student inside linebacker, just completed the journey on which Jones will soon embark. A devastating leg injury on Halloween 2013 landed Grace on the sidelines for all of last season and put his career in jeopardy.

Keeping the right frame of mind, while at the same time making the physical progress, has allowed Grace to return to the field as an effective contributor.

“You rely on the little things,” Grace said of maintaining a healthy attitude during the recovery process. “For me, it was seeing my teammates, seeing the success of the team. Although you’re not contributing in the way you’d like, you can still see the results.

“It’s not always sunny and rainbows every day. Some days it (stinks).

“You have to set yourself up for small victories along the way. For me taking that first step; being able to do so much weight on a machine in the rehab room; being able to do (conditioning) in that first practice.

“You set yourself up for small victories. It kind of snowballs. That helps you keep the positive energy going and going. If you look at the big picture, it’s daunting. You can’t tackle it all at once. You set yourself up for one hurdle at a time and you keep it going.”

Jones, like Grace, isn’t the sort of player who will wallow in the muck of despair over his present plight. Team came first when he was active on the field. Bet the ranch it will continue as a priority.

“I spoke with (Jones) earlier,” Grace said. “It’s tough. Jarron was going to have a huge role for us this year, not just as an impact player on the field, but he was really growing as a leader as well.

“He already fought through some adversity; he played in big games; he’s talented.

“I told Jarron, ‘You can contribute to this team so much. Just because you’re sidelined, it doesn’t minimize your role. Reach out to all the young guys. Offer insight to the guys who are going to be filling in for you.’

“I told him, ‘I know you’ve been hurt before and I know that (stinks). But, I’m here for you; everybody’s here for you.’ We want him to know we care; we love him; he’s one of our brothers. We want him to be as much a part of this team as he wants to be.

“Jarron can really help out. There are a lot of talented young guys. (Last season) when (inside linebacker) Joe (Schmidt) went down (with a severe ankle injury), I was in (freshman linebacker) Nyles’ (Morgan) ear almost non-stop from my view on the sideline. I bet Jarron will be great at that.”

No doubt about it. Suddenly shrinking into a non-productive part of the leadership level of the team would be totally out of character for Jones.

We haven’t heard the last from him.

Next year. Pick up where we left off and get back at it. Still our year. Notre Dame's new biggest cheerleader! We still outchea and I'm gonna enjoy this ride with my brothers! #Team127

A photo posted by Jarron Jones (@who_gotjones94) on Aug 15, 2015 at 10:41am PDT

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Eric Hansen named defensive tackle Jarron Jones as a  player with a chance to impress as Notre Dame opens camp this week. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)