NOTE TO READERS: Sorry for the lack of updates lately but I’ve been enjoying some vacation time heading into the holidays. A shorter, more condensed version of the following Q&A is running in the Sunday edition of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but I figured I’d offer the unabridged version for the patient and loyal visitors to the UGA blog and give you one last forum for comment before I arrive in Tampa on Dec. 26. In the meantime, I’ll be hanging with the family for the holidays. Best wishes to all of you and thanks kindly for making this a regular stop.
Q&A WITH LINEBACKER JARVIS JONES
Christmas is a time for giving and receiving gifts. But where the Georgia Bulldogs are concerned, Jarvis Jones has been doling out presents all year. The sophomore linebacker from Columbus by way of Southern Cal has been a dominating force for one of the Dogs’ most dominant defenses. He has racked up 69 tackles along with an SEC-leading 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. He needs just one sack in the Jan. 2 Outback Bowl game against Michigan State to break David Pollack’s Georgia record for sacks in a season (14). All of this came after a tumultuous 18-month stretch in which Jones wasn’t even sure if he’d be able to play football again following a neck injury. Now the gifts are coming in for Jones. He was named a first-team All-American by at least four different outlets, including The Associated Press, the American Football Coaches Association, Walter Camp and the Football Writers Association of America. He is Georgia’s first consensus All-American on defense since Greg Blue in 2005. We sat down with Jones shortly before the Bulldogs left Athens for Christmas break to find out how he was feeling about his first season at Georgia and why, despite some extremely favorable projections, he chooses to remain a college football player. . . .
Q: Was it one of your preseason goals to earn All-America or all-conference honors?
A: “I really didn’t have any goals. I just went into the season wanting to leave everything I had out there on the field.”
Q: Is it something you even considered?
A: “No, I didn’t. I didn’t even look at it like that. I think I’m more of a team player. I just want to do everything I can to help my team out.”
Q: So how does All-American Jarvis Jones sound to you?
A: “It’s just a blessing for all of us. I know I’m the All-American but it just shows the work that we put in as a group, as a unit. It’s more than just me. Look at Bacarri Rambo. He did good work. If you go across the board on our defense, you’ll see a bunch of players that stepped up and elevated their games. So all the accolades I got, it wasn’t all me. A lot of guys stepped up to get me in position to make plays. I’m just thankful for all the people that had input on that.”
Q: What were your thoughts when you first heard about it?
A: “It’s a big honor. It’s a blessing. Anytime anybody gets an award, it’s a blessing. Look at how many football players there are every year that didn’t make it? There are a lot of good football players out there. So any time you get recognized for what you do, it’s a blessing. I’m very pleased; I’m very humbled. ”
Q: What were your personal expectations in the preseason?
A: “Preseason, I’m going to tell you, the only thing I knew was I was going to go out there and give it everything I had. I didn’t know anything about any awards, no All-American, none of that. I was just trying to prepare myself the best way I could to make plays and help my team out and give my team the best chance of winning.”
Q: Did you even fill out the NFL paperwork to receive a draft evaluation?
A: “No sir. No reason to.”
Q: Aren’t you concerned you might be shortchanging yourself?
A: “At the end of the day I think everything will work out for itself. I’m not really concerned about that. We’re still playing. We’re still in season. With all that said I’m coming back. It is what it is. I’ve just got to keep working, keep getting better.”
Q: What are some of the reasons you don’t feel the need to turn pro now?
A: “I’ve still got a lot to learn. It’s my first year at my position. I mean, I feel like I’ve got the best coach and the best group of players around me. I think we can do a lot of stuff here, some great things if we just stick together and believe in each other like we have been. The sky’s the limit for us.
“I mean, if I did go to the NFL, I could learn that way. I definitely know they’d teach me what I need to know. But here it’s just different. You’ve got guys that you’re really bonding with and that you can have fun with. When you get to the NFL, it’s a whole different level.
“I’m having fun. Being here you can mess up a couple of times.There, man, it’s serious. Them people pay you to play; we get scholarships here. The NFL, if you can’t get it right they’re going to find somebody else. Not saying that I’m not ready for it; I try to prepare myself as well as I can. But it’s just a different atmosphere being here.”
Q: Have you tried to persuade some of the other guys contemplating the NFL to come back?
A: “They know where I stand, man. It’s like I told someone earlier, when that decision comes and it’s right for you, you just have to make it for you.”
Q: You know, if you all you ‘draft-eligibles’ come back, there are going to be some huge expectations for the Bulldogs next season.
A: “Good. We need all the politics we can get so we can be No. 1 in the country next year. I mean, we want all the pub we can get, great guys coming back. Aaron Murray is a great quarterback. He works hard. I know he’s going to take us to the Promised Land. We’ve just got to keep believing.”
Q: Do you think it’s because of your difficult journey to Georgia that you just want to sit tight a while?
A: “It’s been a long time coming. Freshman year, last year, and this year has even been long for us as a team. We started struggling early on. We had some ups and downs and then came out with some close games. There’s been a lot of learning experiences for me. I’m just passionate about this game. I love being here. I love the guys I play with. I love the coaches. I just don’t think I’m ready to let that go yet.”
Q: How did your experience at USC and the very real possibility that you might be able to continue your football career affect you?
A: “You have mentors and guys older guys telling you all the time that football doesn’t last forever and you better take advantage of it. Not being able to play football, just hearing them say that over and over, it was heartbreaking, it was devastating. But now that I got the opportunity to play again, I try to give everything I’ve got. I try to seize the moment. You’ve got to seize the moment. Like they say, any play can be your last play, so you’ve got to give everything you’ve got out there on that field, practice, game, whatever.”
Q: Have you had a chance to talk to David Pollack about the Georgia sack record?
A: “I actually saw him after the SEC game. He was on the sideline and he told me to keep working hard. He told me to go get it. I told him I would.”
Q: You guys were so dominant in the first half against LSU, not even allowing a first down, then the dam kind of broke in the second half. Was there any lesson to be learned in that game?
A: “Lesson? We didn’t even watch the film of it. It was a learning experience, yes. The game is four quarters, not a half. We’ve got to keep on playing, keep on executing. They came out in the second half throwing punches and they scored, they made plays. For us, I don’t even think we got a turnover in that game. That was the biggest difference. I think if we had gotten a couple of turnovers the game would have been a lot different.”
Q: Your Columbus cohort Isaiah Crowell has been under tremendous scrutiny this season and done some things to disappoint coaches, teammates and fans. You seem to have bought in so completely to the team concept. Have you tried to talk to about it?
A: “Always. I talk to all the guys like that. They say I talk too much. It’s all good, man. I try to spread knowledge because I’ve gotten knowledge from older guys and my mentor. For Isaiah, I care about him just like a brother, just like I do for the rest of those guys. I try to keep him humble, try to get him to keep his head right, try to keep him in tunnel vision with football and academics. I’m just trying to keep him on the right path like a big brother is supposed to. I’ve told him, ‘You came here to play football. Everybody knows you’re good, but you’ve got to work harder than most. You’ve got to put yourself on a platform, not saying that you’re better than anybody, but you’ve got to have that work ethic and always be improving on something because even the best have room to improve. You always have to work.’”
Q: You guys have similar backgrounds in that you were a big-time recruit as well. How have you avoided such pitfalls?
A: “For myself, I just never got caught up in the lights. I always stayed humble. I was just so thankful for my opportunity, because it came so quick for me, from not wanting to play football to becoming one of the top linebackers in the country. So when I got to college I was the same way, just work hard, give all I have.”
Q: So do you think it’s starting to resonate with Isaiah?
A: “I think he learned a lot. He’s young. He’s still learning. I definitely think everything he’s been through and done this season has taught him a lot. I think he can use that in the near future to become a better player and a better person.”