The first time Carver High standout Jarvis Jones had to make a decision on where we would play, he chose to leave the state and head to the University of Southern California.
But after an injury-shortened freshman season in Los Angeles, Jones found himself facing the same decision once again. Jones, who had suffered a neck sprain during a game against Oregon, could not get medical clearance from team doctors.
His career at USC was over after just eight games.
So Jones came back to Columbus and looked at his list of finalists from national signing day in 2009. He eventually chose to stay in state this time and resume his career at Georgia.
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Jones sat out the 2010 season to “get his body right,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, then his eligibility came into question prior to this season.
All of that has served as motivation, according to Jones, who leads the Bulldogs into today’s Southeastern Conference championship game against LSU (4 p.m., CBS-3).
“All that stuff is kind of like used for motivation,” Jones said. “Being at SC, not being able to play no more, it was a big drop off for me. It was kind of crazy not being there to play football no more.
“Now that I’ve got the opportunity, I take advantage of it every time I step on the field, practice or in the game. I try to leave everything I’ve got. Every opportunity I get, I try to make something of it.”
Star from Columbus
Jones is one of the most decorated athletes to come out of Columbus.
In addition to leading Carver to its only state football championship in 2007, Jones is a two-time Ledger-Enquirer All-Bi-City Defensive Player of the Year. He led Carver back to the playoffs again the following year but suffered a broken thumb in the playoff opener against Dublin.
He is also a two-time Player of the Year in basketball, winning the award for the first time as a freshman. For his senior season, Jones earned the All-Bi-City Male Athlete of the Year award.
Carver coach Dell McGee said he never doubted that Jarvis would be a success.
“Jarvis was a good player in high school and was going to do great things at USC when he had that unfortunate injury,” McGee said. “I’m happy to see him achieving great things on the football field now.”
SEC sack leader
Jones has had a spectacular sophomore season for the Bulldogs. The outside linebacker has thrived in the Dogs’ 3-4 scheme, which allows for the outside linebackers to blitz on almost every play.
Jones heads into today’s game in the Georgia Dome with 13.5 sacks, which leads the SEC and is just one-half sack off the team record for a single season.
It is also just one behind Illinois’ Whitney Mercilus for the national lead.
Jones, who leads Georgia with 66 tackles, including 19.5 tackles for lost yardage, is one of six finalists for the Butkus Award, which is given annually to the nation’s top linebacker. That award will be handed out next week.
“He’s getting there. He’s still a young player,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham told ESPN.com last month.
“I think the thing with him is he is a very complete linebacker. Sometimes guys can rush the passer; sometimes guys can cover. His whole thing is he can do both. He can cover a tight end, he can cover a back, he can drop in coverage, and yet when you ask him to rush, he’s got some pass-rush skills. So he is a very complete outside backer.”
Jones said sitting out the 2010 season he was able to learn about his game.
“Just watching a lot of different players play, coming here to the SEC and looking at the speed of the game, looking at how athletic people are, just different things I can bring to my game,” Jones said.
Prior to this season, Jones’ eligibility was in question after it was revealed during an investigation of former Columbus Parks and Recreation director Tony Adams and his AAU program, that Adams and his AAU organization had bought Jones plane tickets to Los Angeles. Jones was eventually cleared after it was determined that Jones and Adams had a relationship prior to Jones playing on Adams’ AAU basketball team.
Georgia Dome success
Jones will be returning today to the site of one of his best games this season. In his debut with the Bulldogs, Jones had 11 tackles against Boise State. Later in a win over rival Florida, Jones had four sacks to earn national Player of the Week honors.
“The biggest problem we are going to have with him is blocking him,” LSU offensive lineman Will Blackwell said. “He’s made a lot of tackles this year, big physical guy. He likes to use his hands.”
LSU coach Les Miles, who recruited Jones while he was at Carver, says the Tigers will pay attention to where Jones is on the field.
“Well, he’s a very athletic man, very capable,” Miles said. “ We’ll look forward to lining up against him and playing well, and you certainly have to know where he’s at and what his abilities are. We’ll try to run our offense and take care of wherever he’s at.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt said they knew Jones was a special player.
“I couldn’t have predicted this much productivity as far as sacks and tackles for loss, but we knew we had a special player,” Richt said.
“(We are) so thankful that he came back. California’s a long way from home, man, and he missed home. When he wanted to come back, we were more than happy to accommodate him. We were thankful we had a scholarship available when that timing came about. He just works hard every day. He loves football. He loves Georgia and his teammates and coaches, and he’s really been a catalyst for us on defense and for the entire team.”
Teammate Brandon Boykin said he could tell during the year Jones sat out that he knew how to play the game.
“All the things that he’s done this year isn’t a surprise to me or any of my teammates,” Boykin said.
“This is his first year really getting adjusted to the defense. He can only continue to get better. He’ll definitely be one of the great linebackers to leave Georgia.”
As a third-year sophomore, Jones is eligible to forgo the last two years of his college career and enter the NFL draft. On websites, nflmocks.com and nfldraftscout.com, Jones is ranked as the top outside linebacker.
Jones has repeatedly said he will return for his junior season.
“I’ve got a long time left around here,” Jones told the AJC.
“I am definitely coming back. Like I’ve said before, I’ve got a great coach and our whole defense is coming back next year. So why would I mess that up?”
Kevin Price, 706-320-4493