Creature of habit: One quick wake-up call helped put Oxford’s Jones on fast track to SEC
by Nick Birdsong
Aug 14, 2012 | 5852 views |  0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Photo by Bill Wilson
Photo by Bill Wilson
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OXFORD — Ulric Jones called it the most pivotal play in his ealry but blossoming football career.

It wasn’t one of the defensive lineman’s 51 tackles, including five for loss and three sacks. It wasn’t even extra point the 6-foot-7, 261-pound senior-to-be reached up to block to preserve Oxford’s 14-13 win against rival Gadsden City.

Instead, Jones said, it was his least flattering play of the season that propelled the Mississippi State commit into becoming one of the state’s top recruits in the Class of 2013.

“First game against Carrollton (Ga.), we played them here. They were the best team in Georgia, from what I’d heard,” Jones said, reminiscing. “And the first play on defense, I got pancaked. I was like, ‘Man, pancaked? I ain’t never been put on my back that hard before in my life.”

He was in a perfect position to barbecue or mildew, but rather than buckle under the pressure of playing against Class 6A competition in his second year playing the sport and first where he got significant playing time, Jones took it as a wakeup call.

“I was like, ‘Well, I’m finna go back and see if I can pancake him,” Jones said. “Went at him as hard as I could (on the next play), took him and his other offensive lineman out, made the tackle in the backfield.”

He said the play got him to thinking: “If I can do this, I might as well just go at it. After that, it just became a habit.”

Despite his Aug. 5 commitment to the Bulldogs, Jones also holds scholarship offers from the likes of Alabama and Auburn, which were previously in his top three. LSU, Arkansas, Missouri, Clemson, Arkansas State, Southern Miss, South Alabama and Tulane.

Growing up, Jones was always too big to play recreational football, which groups players by height and weight along with age, and too young to play varsity level football. So, he focused on basketball. The opportunity to land a scholarship on the hardwood was one of the reasons he transferred from Alexandria to Oxford a couple years ago. His bruising style of play in the paint has helped the Yellow Jackets capture the past two Calhoun County basketball titles under coach Joel Van Meter.

But It didn’t take much of a pitch from Oxford football coaches to get Jones out on the gridiron.

As a 6-5, 240-pound sophomore, Jones passed the eye test the day he stepped on campus, giving him built-in potential. He spent much that season on the scout team taking his lumps while learning the basics of the game before emerging as a starter last season.

“To be a kid that came into the program and had never lifted a lot or been around football to make the progress that he’s made and have SEC offers it amazing really,” Oxford coach John Grass said.

With former teammates such as Kwon Alexander (LSU), Trae Elston (Ole Miss) and Michael Flint (Arkansas St.) bringing every college coach in the country to Oxford practices, he knew if he displayed them his talents would be noticed.

In recent years, Oxford has developed a penchant for producing quality pass rushers. John Clark (Troy), Jared Morse (Vanderbilt), Allan Carson (Tennessee) and Dimitri Orr (North Alabama) have all inked scholarships.

This year’s Yellow Jackets also features Jones’ classmate Trent Simpson along the defensive front. The 6-foot-5, 240-pounder is also committed to Mississippi State.

Oxford assistant Darius Gilbert, a former standout at the University of Alabama, said Jones proved he can play last year. He spent last summer in the offseason, fine tuning his body to prepare himself to perform in what would be a breakout junior season. On a team that lost a host of seniors from a squad that reached the state semifinals last year, Jones will be expected to step up on and off the field this fall.

“The thing he has to do for this team to be successful is be a leader, Gilbert said. “He’s starting to become that. But it’s a process that’s the one thing I want to see from him this year.”

Gilbert said he remembers that play against Carrollton well, too.

It was the just the type of adversity that needed to reveal what Jones was at the time, while giving him the motivation to work toward what he could be, starting with the very next play.

“That game he figured out that he can play at this level,” said. “And that was the game changer for him to realize that he can play at the next level and be a dominant high school player.”