Friday, September 28, 2012

Paul Jones' sad goodbye to PSU football

The Penn State career of the former elite recruit will be remembered for what might have been.

The tweet was short and sweet. It came at about 9:30 Wednesday night:

"My dream is playing quarterback. And I'm going to chase it."

And with that, Paul Jones was no longer a part of the Penn State football program.

The departures of WR Shawney Kersey and K Matt Marcincin from the Nittany Lions a couple of weeks ago were somewhat inexplicable.

This one is much less surprising - but much more saddening. Jones was a great representative of Penn State football.

He had battled his way through academic struggles and ineligibility.

He had never whined publicly about losing out on the starting QB position in 2010 and again this season, when he was a strong candidate both times.

He easily could have transferred out a couple of months ago, in late July/early August, when the NCAA sanctions hit and made transferring as enticing as possible. But he stayed. Heck, many were surprised he hadn't transferred in 2010-11.

Surely Jones had some suitors courting him in early August. Remember, Illinois sent eight coaches to State College to recruit Penn State players. One of them must have offered Jones a ride to Champaign. Jones' connections probably have been in touch with multiple coaches from various schools in the past few days.

But until this week, Jones, a 4- or 5-star recruit depending on what recruiting website you subscribe to, stuck with Penn State through it all. He was willing to begin this fall as Matt McGloin's backup, as the No. 2 QB. Willing to roll the dice and see what would happen.

At the least, it seemed likely he would be used intermittently due to his size/athleticism (6-3, 258) whenever the situation warranted someone a lot more imposing than McGloin. Such as on the QB sneaks new head coach Bill O'Brien likes to run on 4th down. Or in some sort of a multi-purpose role.

Plus, he had the inside track on the starting job in 2013-14.

It seemed Jones finally had gotten to the point where he could enjoy a season of football, contribute and look ahead optimistically.

Year 1, he redshirted. Year 2, he was ineligible. Year 3, this year, Jones was set to make an impact. Year 4 would be his.

He had been knocked down a peg in the spring when McGloin beat him out for the starting position in O'Brien's new offense.

Then he was knocked down another peg a few weeks ago when O'Brien decided Jones had a better future at tight end, moved him there, and promoted true freshman Steven Bench to the No. 2 QB spot.

Woah. Jones was no longer a key cog on the team, or in the future QB plans. He was moonlighting as a QB now, the No. 3 QB. His main position at PSU was TE, and for the moment he was a backup there, too.

Still, he might have become a great TE. Jones seems to have all the tools to be outstanding. He is a very good all-around athlete who played basketball and baseball in high school.

But there's suddenly a crowded depth chart at TE despite O'Brien's liberal usage of the position, with multiple TEs on many plays. And super-recruit Adam Breneman should be arriving on campus in the spring.

So despite his obvious potential at TE, there were no guarantees Jones would crack the playing rotation. The past two weeks he touched the field infrequently, making one catch.

So his on-field future at PSU was uncertain. His range of potential contribution stretched from one horizon to the other, running the gamut from virtually nil to future All-Big Ten performer.

But he also was a symbol, or at least potentially was a big symbol for PSU football: He was a guy who had endured a lot, kept moving forward and working hard, stuck with the program through the scandal and sanctions and coaching decisions that went against him. He could have represented the players buying in to, and having faith in, the new coaching staff.

By accepting the move to TE, Jones had boosted the credibility of the new coaches. If he had excelled at TE, it would have provided a bigger boost.

His leaving doesn't diminish that credibility - Jones simply wants to play QB. It's just sad that after everything, he won't finish his career as a Nittany Lion, and we'll never know about his TE skills.

Considering how much of his life Jones had invested in being a QB, he deserves credit for at least trying the position switch for a few weeks. Yes, he should have tried it a little longer - he seemed destined to make a few big plays for the Lions this season. Only he'd be catching the ball instead of throwing it. (Though surely a gadget play with Jones heaving it deep was in the offing.)

Now, he'll never know how good he could have been at TE, or how much he might have liked it, if he had given it a little more time

One more reason for PSU fans to like Jones: He was a super-early commitment to the Lions in early 2009. He also enrolled at PSU early, in January 2010, and he signed in February 2010.

The early commitments of Jones and Mike Hull helped trigger an excellent 2010 recruiting class.

Jones' PSU highlight might have been that first spring game, in 2010, when he completed 5-of-8 passes with two TDs, both to ... Kersey. (Perhaps Jones and Kersey will be working out together these next few months, maybe even transfer together.) Jones was still 17 years old that day and could have been in high school.

It's all over now. Jones' PSU career ends having never taken a snap from center in a game, and without ever knowing how good he could have been at TE.

From the Penn State perspective it just feels sad.

Hopefully Jones finds the right program, one that fits his skills as a QB - cannon arm, huge body, very athletic - earn the starting position and take it from there. He will have two years of eligibility left. It wouldn't be surprising if the NCAA granted him an extra year, due to how little he played this season and the NCAA's pernicious desire to encourage players to leave PSU.

Jones obviously really liked Penn State. If he never earns a starting QB spot somewhere, or flops if he does, he'll always wonder what might have been at PSU. He won't be alone.

But you can't fault a man for chasing his dreams.

1 comment:

  1. No, I don't fault someone for chasing their dreams, but in Paul Jones' case, he may want to trim down to about 230 or so.