Make no mistake about it, there will be a battle for the starting quarterback position before the 2010 season gets underway. Early-enrollee Paul Jones knows as much, and is hoping to get a jump start on the ensuing competition by being in State College this spring.
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By Mike White
Special Contributor to BWI
Paul Jones graduated early from Sto-Rox High School in McKees Rocks, Pa., and is enrolled at Penn State for the spring semester. It is an early start to something big.
At least in Jones' eyes.
To say Jones plans on having a successful career as a quarterback at Penn State would be just a little understatement. Before Jones left to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in Texas earlier this month, he was asked about his goals at Penn State.
"First, I want to get good grades in school," Jones said.
Now everyone take a breath before reading his next few goals.
"I want to play for four national championships and I want to win two Heisman trophies," Jones said.
It was hard to tell whether Jones' tongue was firmly planted in his cheek while making those statements. But when told those were rather lofty goals, Jones was completely serious, saying, "I don't plan on losing any college games."
So maybe Jones' goals are a little far-fetched, but a kid can dream, can't he? For certain, Jones comes to Penn State with plenty of confidence.
"I'm not really nervous about coming to college," Jones said. "At first, I was. I'll be 17 years old and in college. That's going to be crazy. But I'm fine with it."
Jones is young for a college freshman, not turning 18 until May. That will be after competing in spring drills with the Penn State football team.
But to fully appreciate where Jones' football career is, you have to know his background. This is a kid who knows football is his future. But this is a teenager who puts football No. 3 on his list of favorite sports.
Jones never played football until seventh grade because his parents wouldn't let him. When he played for the first time, he was a lineman. He didn't move to quarterback until eighth grade.
Jones' first loves were baseball and basketball - and they still are today. He was a WPIAL all-section basketball player as a sophomore at Sto-Rox, averaging 15 points a game. His point production went down as a junior and he did not play basketball this season because of his early enrollment at Penn State.
He was a pitcher-third baseman in baseball at Sto-Rox as a freshman. He did not play baseball as a sophomore or junior, but the sport still had a special place in his heart.
During some Sto-Rox basketball games this season, Jones watched from the bleachers, wishing he could be playing.
"I go to all the games," Jones said. "I miss it. It's my second-favorite sport behind baseball."
Don't get the idea that Jones doesn't like football. He does. But as he points out, "I wasn't even going to play high school football."
But he did and saw a little playing time as a freshman. By his sophomore year, he was the starter and putting up big statistics. By the time he was a junior, Jones and Seneca Valley's C.J. Brown were being tabbed "the next ones." They were being called western Pennsylvania's next top quarterbacks. Brown is now a freshman at Maryland.
Jones has good size (6 foot 3, 225 pounds), a good arm and decent mobility. As a junior, Jones threw for 2,020 yards and had some Division I scholarship offers. He finished his junior year with 3,870 career yards passing.
Jones had high hopes for himself and his team for the 2009 season. But in early July, Jones sustained a broken left ankle while playing a pickup basketball game. Suddenly, his senior season was up in the air.
Jones had surgery on the ankle and came back to play in the third game of the season. He now admits he was never 100 percent healthy this past season. You could see him limping in some games. But his desire to play was so great.
Jones had some good games, but Sto-Rox was knocked out of the WPIAL (Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic League) playoffs in the first round. He finished the season completing 112 of 215 passes for 1,687 yards and 16 touchdowns. For his career, he completed 358 of 617 for 5,667 yards and 60 touchdowns.
"I was never 100 percent," Jones said of the season. "Probably at the most, I was 80 percent. My ankle was just kind of sore all year and kind of real stiff.
"We didn't go as far as we would've liked in the playoffs. I hate to make excuses, but if I didn't break my ankle, I think we would've went real deep into the playoffs."
Before playing in the prestigious All-American Bowl on Jan. 9, Jones said he believed he had something to prove.
"Some people say I'm not that good and some people say I can only throw, but can't run," Jones said. "I want to go out there and show them what I can do."
Come spring practice, Jones wants to show Penn State's coaches what he can do. It's no secret that Penn State's quarterback spot is thin on experience, with the graduation of Daryll Clark. Freshman Kevin Newsome was Clark's backup.
"I plan on competing for the starting job. I think that's very realistic," Jones said. "I would say the biggest change for me would be that I'm just going to be focusing on playing quarterback. Here (at Sto-Rox), the quarterback coach was also the head coach (Jason Ruscitto). He had to watch everything. Up there at Penn State, I'll be with (quarterbacks coach) Jay Paterno the whole time. The focus will be just on me playing quarterback."
Jones' recruiting journey to being a Penn State quarterback had a few twists and turns. He made a verbal commitment to Penn State in January of his junior year. By April, he had decided to look at a few other schools. By May, he said he was sold on Penn State again. By September, he said he would listen to any other schools that wanted to recruit him.
But in the end, he was convinced Penn State was for him. But why all the indecisiveness?
"Part of me felt like I didn't know all of my possible opportunities when I committed (to Penn State)," Jones said. "I might have picked one too fast."
Jones said he has become close with a number of Penn State recruits and he said close to a dozen recruits will graduate early and be at Penn State for the spring semester.
Jones was a good student at Sto-Rox with a grade-point average better than 3.0. He comes from a big family with four younger brothers and one younger sister. His father, Paul Sr., was a talented high school quarterback in Louisiana.
Jones plans on majoring in education and would like to be a teacher someday. As for the start of college, he said: "I'll miss my family and a few friends."
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Here's a preview of what else is in this issue:
In this week's Phil's Corner, BWI publisher Phil Grosz examines how important it was for the Big Ten, and Penn State, to have a good showing in this year's round of bowl games.
Capital One Bowl Recap
Are you ready to go deep inside the Nittany Lions' match-up with LSU in the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day? Look no further than our complete bowl recap section devoted to the game. With player features, a fantastic inside look at the Tigers, and more, you won't want to miss this section.
BWI assistant editor Andy Elder wraps the wrestling program's latest efforts.
Men's basketball preview
BWI Web editor Nate Bauer takes a look at the latest Penn State series of close losses.
BWI's Sean Fitz takes a look at Dominique Easley's departure to Florida, Penn State's chances with Marcus Lattimore, and other assorted news and notes!
Don't miss any of these stories, plus of course, Varsity Views, Scorecard and The Tail End!