Jones takes advantage of opportunities
Freshman tailback Julius Jones came to Notre Dame in August not expecting a whole lot.
Prior to the season, calling the Irish backfield deep and talented was an understatement. Autry Denson, the school's all-time leading rusher, had departed, but there were several capable backs waiting to fill Denson's shoes. So Jones knew he had to be patient and wait his turn.
But early in the season, Jones caught the eye of the coaches. Darcey Levy transferred, Tony Driver was suspended, Joey Getherell was injured — and Jones now finds himself starting on special teams and No. 2 on the depth chart at tailback.
"I never expected this, but I'm glad it's happened to me," Jones said. "I'm getting better as the year goes on and things are working out well for me."
Jones led the Irish tailbacks in rushes and yards in the past two games and is expected to see even more carries as a result of Driver's suspension.
"I'm just getting a little more playing time and trying to step up," said Jones, who ranks fourth on the Irish squad in all-purpose yards and total offense. "It's unfortunate he [Driver] got into the situation he did, but we just have to step up and take over. Any time you get more play time, you get excited about it. I just have to go out and help the team out."
"His role is increasing here every week with Tony [Driver] here or not," offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers said. "Obviously though he'll be used more. I think over the course of time he's proven that he's a pretty talented guy."
Julius' brother Thomas is pretty talented as well. Thomas Jones, a senior at Virginia, is second in the country in rushing, averaging nearly 160 yards per game.
"I talk to him almost every other day," Julius said. "We're very close. He helps me out and tells me how to deal with things since he's already been through it."
Jones offers a different look for Rogers' offense and adds some excitement in the backfield.
"He's a little different style back," Rogers said. "The other guys are long, tall guys. Tony Fisher and Tony Driver are both 6-foot-1, 6-foot-2 inch guys and probably 220 [pounds] or so. Julius Jones is more the scat back kind of guy — a 5-foot-10 inch, 195 ball of muscle that can really change directions, has great speed and can catch the ball also. With the ball in his hands, he's a pretty exciting guy."
Jones has offered excitement on special teams. Jones emerged as the Irish return man after Getherall went down with a shoulder injury. He averages over 12 yards on punt returns and almost 20 yards on kickoff returns.
"Playing on special teams has helped me out a lot," Jones said. "Joey got hurt early in the season, so I had to step up and go in. I've been producing pretty well at that position, and I think that's given me the chance to play at tailback because the coaches are starting believe in me more."
Head coach Bob Davie had high praise for the freshman back.
"I want to see him get the football. No doubt about that," Davie said. "His plate is going to keep getting filled up now. He is no longer a freshman. We have been through seven games and two open dates, so we are going to let him rip now."
Jones, however, knows there is still a lot to be learned.
"I'm learning from all the tailbacks," Jones said. "They know the offense pretty well and I'm still learning, so they help me out with the blocking assignments."
Rogers and the rest of the coaching staff see the talent in Jones and are trying to mold him into a complete player.
"He can be special. I don't think there is any question about it," Rogers said. "Julius' biggest problem right now is that he was a high school player at this time last year. The way you practice, every play is different than it was in high school. When you're a big shot in high school, you're able to take a play or two off. We have to cure him of that."
All Sports Stories for Thursday, October 28, 1999