Justin Jones grew up dreaming of the chance to play football at Mooresville High, from the time he went to watch his second cousin, former Blue Devil standout tailback Jjshaun Pinkston, to more recently watching his brother, running back-cornerback Brandon Jones, play.Now, Jones, 17, has made that a reality as the Mooresville senior is playing a lead role for his team - not only starting at wide receiver but also seeing time at five other positions - running back, quarterback, safety, kick returner and punt returner.“When I was younger I would always go to the games Friday night to watch Jjshaun and then Brandon, and I always looked up to them and wanted to be like them,” said Jones said, who, like Pinkston, wears No. 7 for the Blue Devils. “I knew I had to play for Mooresville one day. I haven’t forgotten what it meant to me. I think about all the little kids that come to the games, and I try to play my best for them, as well as my coaches and teammates.”Jones - called “J.J.” by his coaches and teammates - stands only 5-foot-9 and weighs 175 pounds, but what he may lack in size he makes up for with a relentless work ethic that has allowed him to bench 310 pounds and run a 4.48, 40-yard dash.No matter what the numbers say, Mooresville football coach Hal Capps said it would be hard to measure just how much Jones means to his team.“J.J. is one of those guys that could play just about any position,” Capps said. “His philosophy is just to outwork people every day and on every play.”“My mindset, whether it is in practice or a game or whatever, is that I won’t let the guy across from me beat me,” Jones said. “If he beats me once, it won’t happen, again. Football is that simple, you just have to beat that guy (across from you) every play.”Jones flashed his ability to do that on a consistent basis last season when he caught 31 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns, while also running for another 340 yards and six scores, and even passing for two touchdowns.This year, he came out of the gates fast with eight catches for 88 yards and a touchdown in a 35-21 comeback win over West Rowan. Jones is looking to make a big play every time he touches the ball.Before every game, Jones can be found watching the St. Louis Rams’ wide receiver Tavon Austin (former West Virginia standout) or former Baltimore Ravens’ linebacker, Ray Lewis, for inspiration.“When I get the ball, I always get an adrenaline rush, because I feel like I can make something good happen,” Jones said. “My goal is always to make the first guy or two miss, and then get in the open. That is when I am at my best.”Capps says Jones can be equally effective with or without the ball.“We want to get Justin the ball as many times as we can within the flow of the game,” said Capps, noting they have packages just for Jones. “But he is also a great decoy because people have to account for him on every play because he can be in the backfield, under center, out wide, just about anywhere. He can really open things up for our other guys.”Mooresville has several other good options on offense this year, including junior quarterback Thomas Bullock, junior running backs Manny Johnson and Akese Rankin, as well as wideout Dallas Jackson.That balance should give everyone a chance to make plays, as the Blue Devils look for a big improvement on their 4-7 mark from 2012.“I think we all feel like we have something to prove this year, because we were down a bit last season,” Jones said. “I don’t mind if it’s me or someone else making the big plays we need each game. I just want to win.”Jones’ team attitude has already been tested when he was shut out as a receiver and had only five yards on two carries in 45-14 loss to Hough. The Mooresville senior said he learned a valuable lesson in that game.“I have to bring my A game all the time to every practice and game, if I am going to play my best,” Jones said. “I can’t let my team down, and I feel like I did. But I have a short memory. We are going to make some adjustments and get right back at it.”While Jones said he hopes to have a big senior season, he’s also looking to get more attention from college recruiters, like Coastal Carolina, who are already looking at him.To do that, Jones will have to play with the same chip-on-his-shoulder mentality that has gotten him to where he is now.“People have always told me what I can’t do, that I’m still small for this and that,” Jones said. “But I just keep playing football. I feel like I have to be the one to make it to the next and play college football. I’m going to everything I can to get there.”
Sunday, Sep. 22, 2013
Living the dream
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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