Jarvis Jones walks up to Alec Ogletree, John Jenkins and few other players. Ogletree, for one, is bracing himself because he pretty sure what’s next.
“It’s like my boy Eddie Griffin always says,” Jones says with his coy smile and standard lead-in line – ready to make his teammates laugh or roll their eyes with something he’s about to say. It’s often a line from Griffin.
“It’s just funny,” Ogletree said giggling when thinking about his fellow linebacker. “Because we are always like: ‘Here comes J.J. – he’s about to tell us a story.’ Jarvis is just funny.”
“He’s got a lot of one-two punches with the jokes,” Jenkins said. “He’s a real smooth talker.”
Jones is almost certainly not as funny as Griffin, a famous black comedian who often cracks jokes about topics ranging from aliens to people who live in Los Angeles. Jones, for the record, doesn’t shy away from either subject, and that makes him a bit different from the rest of the players on Georgia’s roster – certainly a lot different than most students at Georgia. After all, how many college students can drop nuggets of knowledge about outer space and outside linebacker?
Still, that’s only part of what makes Jones so unique. His path to Georgia separates him from nearly every player who has ever played for Mark Richt. And Jones’ maturity surpasses every player to slip on Silver Britches since Thomas Brown graduated early in 2007.
Jones correctly diagnoses himself as being “mature for my age.” If Jones were any less an adult would he have made it this far after going through so much? Has Jones always been like this? It seems that way, but being told you will never play football again can have a bone-jarring effect on a young person – particularly one who has struggled mentally and physically to fulfill lofty expectations.
Jones sacking Florida's John Brantley in 2011 (Wes Muilenburg/Dawg Post)
THE TRIP OUT WEST
To be clear – Jarvis Jones doesn’t think he made a mistake going to play football at USC.
“I went to USC because of Ken Norton,” he said.
The former San Fransisco 49ers great clicked with Jones during recruiting, and he felt like he was the best coach to position him for the future.
“I thought he would put me in the best position. That was the main reason to go out there. I thought, too, it was different. Going to SC made me the person I am today. I wouldn’t change anything I have done. I talked to everyone (about going to college at USC); I didn’t really miss home. I always talked with my family. My family was always behind me 100%.”
Jones was the Trojans’ backup strongside linebacker in 2009. He played a slew of minutes as a true freshman in his backup role and on special teams. His top game came against San Jose State where he tallied five tackles, but he was also praised by hardcore Trojan fans for having a solid performance during the 18-15 win over #8 Ohio State in the second week of the season.
By October, Jones was settling into life in Los Angeles – going to school in a neighborhood that seemed familiar, but with faces that were new and often from famous families. Southern Cal is located in a notoriously rough area of Los Angeles.
“I didn’t come from the best place, either, so SC was in the same sort of neighborhood. But, I mean, you were going to school with Lil Romeo and Ice Cube’s son,” he said of the life at the private school. “USC football is big, but there is so much more to do.”
Then came the game at Oregon.
It was not a good night for USC.
It was a horrible night for Jarvis Jones.
The Ducks thrashed then #4 USC 47-20 – giving the Trojans their worst loss since 1997. In many ways that night was the end of an era at USC. Thoughts of a third BCS title in the Pete Carroll era vanished – many of the records of his powerhouse USC teams would soon be whitewashed because of NCAA sanctions. Carroll soon left for the NFL, and controversial Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin was called in to take his place quickly thereafter.
For Jones it was the night when football almost came to an end. He suffered a neck sprain and didn’t play in USC’s final five games of the 2009 season. The Trojans limped to a 5-4 record in the Pac-10 before Carroll departed to coach the Seattle Seahawks.
During the transition from Carroll to Kiffin, Jones was in injury purgatory. Southern Cal doctors would not clear him for competition, but his own doctors said he would be able to play soon enough. It was a confusing and confounding time. How could Southern Cal’s medical staff be the only doctors not willing to let Jones play? Did Southern Cal or even Kiffin not want Jones on the team?
On March 29, 2010 Kiffin met with the media before the Trojans started spring practice.
“I'm not very positive about the possibility of him playing here… at all,” Lane Kiffin said of Jones. “There is a serious concern that hits or a number of hits could lead to long-term damage.”
Jones’ future at Southern Cal seemed clear – it didn’t exist. But behind the scene word spread quickly about Jones leaving USC in order to try to play football again. That gave Georgia a second chance to get a player many felt they should have recruited more effectively the first time around.
Jones after forcing and recovering a fumble during the 19-7 win over Florida (Dean Legge/Dawg Post)
Insiders felt Georgia bumbled the recruiting process with Jones. The Bulldogs offered Chase Vasser, who was not as highly rated as Jones, before any other linebacker in the state. That seemed, at best, to be a curious way to go about linebacker recruiting in Georgia, considering a consensus national prospect resided in your borders. Insiders were even more aggravated given that Jones grew up in Columbus – a city long known to have a star-crossed relationship between its players and Georgia. Recruiting Jones was going to be difficult enough without offering others in the state first.
By the time the Bulldogs got Jones to visit in February of 2008, they had already taken two linebacker commitments – Vasser and Dexter Moody.
“I wonder sometimes about the number of linebackers they have signed, but the coaches at Georgia say they want me to come there,” Jones said at the time.
Even with his doubts about the Bulldogs, Jones kept Georgia on his mind for a while – even visiting Athens as late as the week before Signing Day in 2009. He wound up signing with USC, but Jones probably connected with Richt for good during his final trip to Athens – remembering the words that would come true for him one day soon.
“Coach Richt talked to me about how if I went to Georgia I would be set for life,” Jones said in late January 2009 of his trip to Athens and visit with Richt. “I would have roots tied to this state, and I would be taken care of with or without football in the future.”
Richt’s words were prophetic – even if Jones (or Richt for that matter) didn’t realize it at the time. A few days later he signed with USC, but Georgia would have its chance to re-recruit Jones – and this time Georgia wouldn’t screw it up. The foundation laid in the winter of 2009 was one of the main reasons Jones picked the Bulldogs after his time at USC was over.
“It was devastating not being able to play, but then Georgia giving me a second opportunity with open arms was a blessing,” Jones said.
“I was hyped about him coming here because I knew about Jarvis in high school,” Alec Ogletree said. “I was like: ‘Dang, we are about to get Jarvis Jones?’”
This time the Bulldogs took advantage of the biggest thing they had going for them – location. Todd Grantham, who by then had taken over defensive coordinator duties, had a hand in Jones’ recruitment, too. It was Grantham’s first in a line of outstanding recruiting moments since he was hired in January 2010.
“When I was released some other schools called – LSU, Florida State and North Carolina. I thought about being out in Los Angeles and being far away from my family. They never got a chance to see me play. It cost too much to drive or fly out there,” he added.
Eventually Jones decided to visit Georgia to see what it would be like to play football there.
Jones pressures Missouri's James Franklin early in 2012. It was the last time the junior was healthy before playing Florida. (Dean Legge/Dawg Post)
“My visit was very important. Coach (John) Lilly used to come visit with me nearly every week. I had a chance to play here. I knew my visit was very important for both sides. I knew that Georgia cared about me. They went through the things (medically) it would take for me to play for me,” Jones said. “I wanted to be in the right place. My family loves Georgia football – we have Georgia stuff everywhere. But now they are only three hours away – and they can come to see me all of the time.”
“I don’t know all of the reasons why he went to Southern Cal, and I don’t know all of the reasons he came back to Georgia,” Richt said. “But the bottom line was that he came back to Georgia. He is just so happy to be at Georgia.”
“I wasn’t sure Jarvis was coming here until I knew he’d signed,” Ogletree admitted. “I sure am glad he did come.”
“There is a connection we have,” Jones said of being a player at Georgia with the fans who cheer them on. “You can go anywhere in the US, and you will find a Bulldog.”
ON TO ATHENS
After enrolling at Georgia, Jones was forced to sit out a year due to NCAA transfer rules, which made for a taxing year mentally for Jones for a couple of reasons. The Bulldogs limped to their first losing season since 1996, and Jones could do nothing about it. He was forced to lead the scout team defense and watch each game from the sideline.
“I was frustrated a lot not playing,” Jones admitted. “I fought every day with it. I saw the frustrations with the players because we knew we were better than that. But I took initiative to make someone better every day. I wanted to push our players and team.”
“He wanted to be on the scout team,” Richt said. “He wanted to rally the troops. That scout team had some redshirts and some walk-ons, and he wanted them to be the best scout team in America. He never said that, but you could tell that. When a guy that good rolls out there and practices hard on the scout team, it just becomes contagious. We had a really good feeling that he was going to be a heck of a football player once he played.”
Jones' game-clinching interception against Missouri in September. (Dean Legge/Dawg Post)
But Georgia struggled – particularly at the start of the season. By the time the end of the season rolled around Jones tuned in to watch the final game of the season.
On its first possession of the game Georgia drove the length of the field and ate up more than nine minutes of game clock. But the Bulldogs stalled at the three-yard line – failing to punch the ball into the end zone after a 15-play drive. Blair Walsh came on to knock in a 20-yard field goal, but by then Jones had turned the TV off.
“I watched the play until we were on the one-yard line, and we didn’t get it. I turned it off,” Jones admitted. “I didn’t want to watch it any more. I felt like we were not playing Georgia football. I felt like for us to bust our tails and not to get into the end zone from the one-yard line… there is no way we should have been on the one-yard line and not scored.”
Jones’ disgust at the end of the 2010 season gave him even more resolve for his upcoming debut for Georgia. Jones had been given another chance to play football – it was something he didn’t take lightly. What he saw on TV that day was something he wanted to make sure never happened again.
Richt thinks Jones’ attitude about football is unique to those who have nearly had the game taken away from them.
“When he was done at Southern Cal he didn’t know if he would play again. He was in the process where he thought he was done,” Richt said. “Those guys who get that second chance, they tend to show up with a very thankful attitude – they think the food tastes good at Georgia. They think the locker room is awesome. They have a great appreciation of everything. Some guys arrive at Georgia and don’t have to rough it to get there.”
HOME IN COLUMBUS
Jones isn’t trying to be the savior for everyone who has come from Columbus. He’s not trying to make up for the follies of players from his hometown. He’s just trying to be himself.
Jasper Sanks, touted as the top running back in the state since Herschel Walker, came to Georgia and had an up-and-down career before being dismissed near the end of the 2001 season by Richt.
By the time Jones had joined the Bulldogs in 2010, Georgia was hot after Isaiah Crowell. The argument could be made, and with plenty of validity behind it, that Crowell was the most important recruit for Richt in his 11 years at Georgia. Pressure was mounting on Richt to win, and Crowell would have to be part of that due to running back attrition in the program as well as his overall talent.
But Jones wasn’t making any promises in terms of taking care of Crowell when he arrived on campus at Georgia.
“I’m not babysitting anyone,” Jones told those close to him about Crowell and his teammate Quntavious Harrow, who both signed with the Bulldogs in February of 2011. Crowell was named SEC Freshman of the Year for his performance on the field, but he could not stay out of trouble off it – eventually getting thrown off the team after being arrested on felony weapons charges in late June.
Jones making a tackle against Tennessee in 2012. (Dean Legge/Dawg Post)
Jones stuck to his word… he could only take care of himself – he couldn’t take care of Crowell and Harrow, who eventually left the program later in the summer.
“A lot of people write me on Facebook or call me and say ‘A lot of guys from Carver have gone to Georgia and not made it… you are the only one now – keep our hope,’” Jones said. “There is a lot of pressure that comes with that. But I have to remind myself of where I am trying to go, and what I am trying to do. For my family’s sake, I can’t take care of the whole nation. As bad as I want to or would like to… I can’t. I do what I can do.”
But even Jones had trouble escaping what seems to be a long shadow from Columbus. The NCAA investigated Jones’ relationship with his former AAU basketball coach Tony Adams in August of 2011. Jones’ eligibility was at stake after Georgia began an internal investigation to determine if the $828 flight Adams paid for Jones while he was in school at USC for travel to and from home were in violation of NCAA bylaws.
Georgia determined that Jones had not violated any bylaws of the NCAA because of his prior relationship with Adams, and that he was eligible to play right away in 2011. While the investigation was the final hurdle to Jones playing at Georgia, he said he knew all along that he had not done anything wrong.
“I met Tony in 5th grade,” Jones said. “I was on the travel (basketball) team from my 5th year until the summer of my junior year. (Tony) ended up being my legal guardian. I was in a difficult situation, and he was the best situation I had, and so I moved in with him.”
Georgia’s compliance department determined that Jones “didn’t have any eligibility issues,” and “that all of the information was vetted and all the relationships were vetted.”
Everything turned out well for Jones in that instance, but the junior knows all to well that growing up and living in Columbus can be a challenge.
“It’s easy to get caught up in Columbus – there’s not a lot going on. If you are not in school or working a consistent job, you can get caught up in the drama that goes on down there,” he said. “I go home and see a lot of my friends who I went to high school with who are caught up in the drama down there. My friends are my friends, but I am blessed to be in my situation.”
Jones said he leans on a slew of Columbus natives to make sure he is doing the right thing.
“I had a lot of right mentors that surrounded me and helped me make the right decisions. (Former NFL player) Brenston Buckner, (Jones’ former AAU basketball coach) Tony Adams, (Jones’ former AAU basketball coach) Herman Porter, Jack Harris, (Jones’ high school football coach) Del McGee – I just trust them,” Jones said. “I have known them for a long time. Some I have known since the fourth or fifth grade. Those people have really helped me stay humble and focused and make me realize my opportunity is a blessing. That’s what keeps me grounded. Coach McGee was great for me. He really helped me realize how life can go hand-in-hand with playing sports.”
One of the things that set Jones apart from others in Columbus who have found it hard to be successful is his ability to listen.
“I have seen so many athletes get to this position, and they blow it. Those guys keep reminding me of my situation and keep me grounded,” Jones said. “You always need someone to provide you a humbling moment. A lot of guys forget where they come from and forget how they overcame things. I always try to use that as motivation. Every time I step on the field I am always giving everything I’ve got. I am always sacrificing myself to be the best I can be. You are sacrificing yourself and everything you’ve got, and some young guys just don’t get it. Senior year in high school when guys come back and tell you to do everything you have to do because one day you are going to hang up your cleats – I got that. Young guys… they don’t always think that way. They think: ‘Man, I got this many years to go.’ They really don’t think about the right now… they really don’t carpe diem.”
“Midway through my freshman year I realized just what people are talking about. Some guys make it to the NFL and don’t get it. It wouldn’t hurt me never to play in the NFL because I know that I have given it all I’ve got. I’ve had the opportunity to touch a lot of people. And to come from where I have come from… I have really been successful. Not many people in my family have come to college and played at this level. Not many people from my community have come to college and played at this level. I’ve touched a lot of people’s lives because of that.”
“I always try to be myself. I don’t want to get out of line to do extra things. I want to be the real me. I like to stay relaxed. I talk to the guys, but I am nonchalant sometimes. I don’t give speeches, but I think they take it and hold it to a standard. That is what I think: you have to respect the game. This game can be easily taken away from you. I saw that. You get a lot of older guys telling you that you will have to hang up the cleats. You have to put in the time to be the best player you can be. You have to do things over and over again. Football only last so long – about 3.5 years in the NFL.”
CARPE DIEM; EVERY DAY
Just after Georgia’s 24-20 win over Florida Jones said he wasn’t thinking about leaving Georgia early for the NFL. It was a major win for the Bulldogs going into 2012.
“Of all of the guys that could turn pro, he probably was the guy who had the greatest chance to be the highest pick,” Richt said. “He really likes Georgia, and he wants to win. Jarvis also thought he could get better. He said, in the end, that he thought he wasn’t ready.”
Jones lead the parade of talented players back to the Bulldog locker room in the 2012 off-season. Bacarri Rambo, Sanders Coming and John Jenkins – among others – all followed Jones’ lead and returned to what had become one of the most anticipated seasons in recent Georgia history.
But the 2012 season, with Jones as an established star in the SEC, will be a new obstacle course for the Columbus native to get through. Teams won’t be surprised to see him at outside linebacker, and they will be clued in to his playmaking ways.
“What Jarvis has to understand is that there are a lot of good coaches in the SEC who are going to say: ‘We are not going to let this guy wreck the game.’ You have to have answers for that,” Grantham said.
It remains to be seen if Jones will have those answers. But if the player, according to himself (but disputed by Jenkins) with the “nicest dreadlocks on the team” can figure out how to have as much production – 13.5 sacks and 70 tackles – as he did in 2011 Georgia will be just fine.
“Jarvis has been really good for Georgia,” Richt said. “It doesn’t matter if you are black or white – guys gravitate to Jarvis.”
Jones sitting on the bench in the closing moments of Georgia's 17-9 win over Florida in 2012. (Dean Legge/Dawg Post)