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November 28, 2013

One small step for Jarron Jones

Jarron Jones is walking on eggshells this week.

He doesn’t want to say anything to upset the balance. He doesn’t want to get ahead of himself. He certainly doesn’t want to verbalize anything that might inspire a concerted effort by the Stanford defense to knock him off his pedestal, perceived or otherwise.

“I’m just getting ready for Stanford and trying to pretend that what happened against BYU didn’t really happen,” said the 6-foot-5, 205-pound red-shirt freshman from Rochester, N.Y.

But happen it did. Entering the BYU game last Saturday with seven tackles in limited action over 10 games, Jones doubled his tackle total for the season and added a blocked field goal for good measure as the Irish closed the home-field portion of the 2013 regular season with a 23-13 victory.

Make no mistake, Jones is thrilled with his performance against BYU. It was a badly-needed confidence boost for a guy not only seeing his first collegiate action this season, but also transitioning to the nose guard position in the absence of injured front-liners Louis Nix III and Kona Schwenke.

“It just lets me know what I’m capable of,” said Jones of his performance against BYU. “But I don’t want to get big-headed about it and dwell on that because that’s how you end up not doing anything the next week. I don’t want to fall into that trap.

“I haven’t been on Twitter much. Just staying close to my family. Not even talking about football. Just living life and getting ready for Stanford.”

If Jones hadn’t put himself on a low-calorie diet of modesty, Nix would be there to knock him down a peg or two. In fact, even with his reasoned approach this week, Jones is contending with Nix’s chatter. 

“He’s like, ‘Now you think you’re famous!’” said Jones of Nix’s post-BYU analysis. “I’m like, ‘I don’t think I’m famous!’ He’s just keeping me focused and getting me ready for the next game.”

Nix is just a small part of the committee trying to bring out the best in Jones. After a sub-par week of practice following the USC game, head coach Brian Kelly and the defensive staff decided to send Jones back to the prep team.

“We were looking for a consistent effort,” Kelly said. “We think he’s got a lot of skill and great size. We wanted to see that fire every single play, and I liked what he did in the couple of weeks that he was down with (the prep team). That’s why we elevated him back with our varsity group.”

For Kelly, it’s a building process, and little things count. One can’t tend to his duties on the field, according to Kelly, until the house is in order off the field.

“You have to do other things in this program to earn trust, and it starts off the field,” Kelly said. “Jarron needed to earn some trust relative to his schoolwork and doing things the right way off the field. That’s just part of the entire process of developing within the program.

“He had to tend to making sure that he was making good decisions in the classroom and taking care of the little things. I’ve always seen a direct correlation that when you’re doing the right things off the field, it generally starts to show itself on the field, and that’s what we’re seeing with Jarron.”

Significant progress has been made.

“We knew about his size. We knew about his physical capabilities,” Kelly said. “It was just a matter of him maturing and paying attention to detail. Once he started to buy into that and understand how important it is, I think he’s starting to blossom into the type of player he can be.”

Even his teammates were surprised by Jones’ performance against BYU.

“That was awesome,” said Irish inside linebacker Dan Fox. “I didn’t (see it coming). I saw a little bit in practice. You see spots of it. You didn’t see the full, complete game. But against BYU, he played a great game.”

Asked if he anticipated Jones emerging against BYU, offensive guard Chris Watt thought about it and good-naturedly but flatly stated, “No.”

While Jones is fighting hard to keep his recent success in perspective, he can’t help but be optimistic about the future, particularly now that he’s found a home in the middle of the Irish defensive line.

“When I first heard I was playing nose guard, I was like, ‘…the hell?’ I’m not that big! I’m not Louis! What do you expect me to do?’” Jones laughed. “But playing it has been fun and has helped me be more physical. I actually love playing nose guard.”

For a true measure of how far Jones has come, there’s no sterner test than an assignment against the physical Stanford Cardinal offensive front.

“They are a big, technically-sound offensive line,” Jones said. “Very physical, gritty, tough…You’ve got to get ready to play that type of game because it’s body blow for body blow.”

Want to know how far Jones has come in a short period of time? The next chapter in Jarron Jones’ football life comes Saturday night in Stanford Stadium.

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