Jones makes big strides on offense for Notre Dame
By BRIAN BURKE
When Julius Jones arrived on campus last August from his home in Big Stone Gap, Va., he was making a leap from one of the the smallest high school football teams in the state to the most storied college football program in the land.
Going from a man among boys to fourth on the depth chart, it probably would not have shocked too many if this freshman were held out of game action for a year as he eased into the system.
But Jones "eased" into the system by rushing for 375 yards and three touchdowns, averaging five yards per carry, catching three passes for 90 yards, and amassing 798 return yards and one TD.
So much for learning the ropes.
"Anytime you come from high school to college, that's a big transition," Jones said. "Last year it took a while for me to get used to it, but towards the end of the year, I was pretty confident, and I got a lot of playing time, so that helped my confidence a lot."
Jones' knack for the big play has made him one of the most exciting players on the Notre Dame roster.
Whether it was a 67-yard punt return for a touchdown against Boston College, bringing the Irish to within two points late in the fouth quarter, bouncing to the outside aganst an excellent Tennessee defense for a 29-yard burst, or vaulting into the end zone as Notre Dame poured it on against Arizona State, Jones raised eyebrows as a player not only with remarkable talent, but a field savy not often seen in freshmen.
He realizes however, that he is among other talented tailbacks, and that the competition between he, Tony Fisher, and Terrance Howard for the starting role is one that will likely continue through two-a-days in August.
"The coaches say it's wide open right now, between me, Terrance, and Tony, and we're all three going out and working hard, doing the best we can, and whatever happens happens," he said.
One aspect of Jones' game that the coaches would like to see improve would be his blocking, particularly in pass protection.
Last year, Jones was a slasher with plenty of moves, but was also smaller than the other tailbacks, something that he went into winter conditioning hoping to remedy.
"I gained about 15 pounds, so that helps me with my pass blocking," he said. "That's one of the main things I had trouble with last year was pass protection, and now that I got that down it looks pretty good."
Whether he starts or not, much will be expected of Jones in the 2000 season. Head coach Bob Davie has expressed an intent on running the football more, and with quarterback Arnaz Battle at the helm, the option will likely play a larger role in the offense.
There has also been talk of Tony Fisher being inserted at fullback in some situations, a decision that would be facilitated by consistency from Jones and Howard.
Add in his return skills and it is plain to see that much of Notre Dame's offensive fortunes are riding on the shoulders of No. 22.
Nevertheless, Jones is prepared for the pressures of big time college football. In a way, he has been through it all already.
His brother, Thomas Jones, was a standout tailback at the University of Virginia in 1999. He finished third in the nation in rushing yards his senior season.
While Thomas heads to the professional ranks, Julius credits a considerable amount of his success thus far to his relationship with his brother.
"Me and my brother are real close, he's been through a lot, he pretty much knows what I'm going through right now, he's been there," Jones said. "I talk to him every night. He's looking forward to the draft, I am too. He's real anxious about that and it's something he deserves, his time is coming right now."
While notions of the NFL are a bit premature for the younger Jones, the comparisons to his brother have inevitably been made, something Julius hardly disagrees with.
"I can't really see any difference. I watch his tapes, and it's basically the exact same running. The more and more I watch it, the more and more we look the same."
That would suit Irish fans just fine.
All Sports Stories for Friday, April 7, 2000