Jarron Jones overcomes personal challenges
Manuel De Jesus | Thursday, November 12, 2015
It’s a difficult concept to wrap one’s head around. There’s a uniqueness behind how each person reaches it, and there isn’t always a correlation between age and maturity, as most would like to think.
Not everyone grows at the same rate. Most people go through distinct obstacles that help push them to become mature individuals. Others may just naturally grow into their “coming-of-age.”
In senior defensive lineman Jarron Jones’ case, he said he believes his up-and-down career at Notre Dame has made him the best version of himself he could possibly be.
Last season, Jones tallied 40 tackles with seven and a half of them being tackles for a loss before being lost for the season with a foot injury. He missed the defeat to USC in the regular-season finale and the Irish victory over LSU in the Music City Bowl.
Heading into this season, Jones was placed on the Lombardi Trophy preseason watch list, which is given out to the best lineman, offensive or defensive, in the country. Primed to make his comeback on a defense that returned 10 of 11 starters, Jones suffered yet another setback. It was announced Aug. 15 Jones had torn his MCL during fall camp and would sit out the entire season.
“That was probably the most heart-breaking moment,” Jones said quietly. “Tearing my knee has been my biggest fear. I’ve seen so many other people go through it, and it’s just such a long recovery process. … I was scared to death when I found that out because I knew I wasn’t going to play all year.”
Tearing his MCL was the culmination of all the obstacles Jones has endured four years into his tenure at Notre Dame. Before even arriving to campus, the Rochester, New York, native had to make life-changing decisions that would guide his path towards becoming who he is today.
In April of 2011, Jones said he gave a verbal commitment to Penn State based solely on one thing: “I chose Penn State strictly on party reasons. I was very immature during the recruiting process,” Jones said. “In wake of my senior year, I realized that I had to make bigger decisions in my life. I was looking at myself at Penn State, and I didn’t see myself being the best I could be. I took my visit to Notre Dame, and that’s when I saw myself being the best I could possibly be.”
Before started his senior season at Aquinas Institute, Jones decommitted from the Nittany Lions and decided Notre Dame would be best. He said he understood making the commitment to go to a school for four years was a decision that shouldn’t be based on just how fun it might be but rather the life track the institution would put him on.
Despite being rated as the second-best player in the state of New York coming out of high school, according to Rivals.com, Jones said his senior year did not go as well as it he envisioned it.
“I didn’t have the season that I wanted my senior year,” Jones said. “I didn’t play up to the expectations that I put on myself and that everyone put on me. I kind of had to deal with the downside of recruiting. I was a five star in like every site, and at least top 20 overall, and after senior year, I dropped tremendously. I had to deal with that, and that’s when I had to use the [U.S. Army All-American Bowl] to prove myself.”
On every play, every mistake, every penalty called on him and every sack, someone was watching Jones and evaluating his potential. Was he going to be an impact player coming out of high school, or had his ceiling been reached in high school? The pressure of having to play like the best player in New York and knowing he was being dissected on every play made it difficult for Jones to play up to his standards, he said.
But he also said handling that pressure was just another step into becoming a better version of himself.
“It was part of growing up,” Jones said.
Once he arrived to campus in 2012, Jones said he accepted being redshirted and practiced with no intention to win a starting job on purpose. He struggled with becoming accustomed to his new life 500 miles away from his home, but he said he knows his struggles were just the next step in the process.
“I spent the whole year just growing up,” Jones said. “I was actually supposed to play, and the thing was, I chose to practice in a lackadaisical manner on purpose because I felt like a redshirt was better for me, but then looking back on it, maybe I should not have taken that redshirt.”
Despite not playing, Jones said he learned a tremendous amount from the players who played during Notre Dame’s run to the 2013 BCS Championship Game. He took the lessons learned and implemented them into his own style of play, which eventually earned him playing time the next season.
Jones played in 12 games and started against Stanford later in the season. He tallied 20 tackles, a forced fumble, one sack and two blocked kicks, one of which was a game-changing block in Notre Dame’s 23-13 win over BYU. His successful sophomore campaign led him to the starting rotation the following year.
The foot injury against Louisville last season gave Jones yet another opportunity to mature. It was the first injury he had ever sustained, and while most players would have let the injury get the best of them, Jones said he knew he needed to overcome the obstacle to reach his pinnacle as a player.
“It was just something that I had to learn to do on my own,” Jones said. “I just had to learn how to stay positive through it all. … I felt like I had to start all over because freshman year I was watching games. … Once junior year came around, I felt like there was no looking back.”
Eleven games since his last snap, Jones is recovering from his knee injury with his eyes set on making a return for Notre Dame’s bowl game. Sitting at 8-1 and still in contention for a spot in the second annual College Football Playoff, Jones said he thinks there’s a chance he could make his return to the field in late December or early January.
“After surgery, things weren’t as bad as we thought,” Jones said. “We’re trying to shoot for the bowl game. There’s a chance — I’m not making any promises — but I’m trying not to push it. It’s hard not to push it because you want to get back and play … but you can’t just get back and play.”
Jones said he has also learned to be patient and understanding while being a mentor to freshman Jerry Tillery and sophomore Daniel Cage, who are both filling in for Jones in his absence along the defensive line.
With his mind set on making a comeback for the postseason, Jones said he is prepared to take everything he has learned with him back to the field this year.