Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Jones looms large for UVa

CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Play smashmouth football.

Move people.

Collide, control, command.

All the buzz terms tied to Virginia's new pro offense don't seem conducive to Perry Jones, who entered fall practice atop a crowded depth chart at tailback.

Just look at him there: 5-foot-8, 185 pounds. He's a bundle of quickness, sure, but not exactly the power back you think of when you need to conjure up I-formation grittiness on a cold November day.

Oday Aboushi, though? That guy fits. Stands 6-6, weighs 310 pounds, is dying to knock you over.

Perhaps never more so than when Jones is on the field with him.

"I'll block for Perry until the world runs out," said Aboushi, a sophomore right tackle. "That's all I can say. Knowing his work ethic and knowing his determination on the field ... that's going to get you going hard every play. That's going to get the extra yard."

Perhaps Jones has a shot in this system after all. When it comes to earning respect from teammates and coaches, the former Associated Press Group AAA player of the year is way ahead of schedule.

Coach Mike London calls Jones "pound for pound, probably the strongest player on the team." Ah, there's the ol' "pound for pound" qualifier, though, the bane of featherweights everywhere.

It seems Jones can't go a day without it.

"The biggest issue I've had with my height was just with recruiting," said Jones, who became Oscar Smith High School's all-time leading tackler as a prep linebacker. "College coaches come into your high school one day and they say, 'We'll be calling you.' And then you never hear back from them again, because they see my height and they're scared of it.

"It doesn't really matter to me. I just go out there and ball out, play as hard as I can, and eventually people will see that height doesn't matter."

The Cavaliers already have. After playing 11 games on special teams as a true freshman last season, Jones is getting a long look at tailback.

One of UVa's most vital goals is improving upon last year's 112th-ranked rushing attack, and Jones' stellar performance in the weight room this summer signaled that he might be ready to help.

"Maybe he's height challenged or whatever, but he's got the heart of a giant," London said. "He does everything the way you want him to do it, so I'm excited for him to have an opportunity to get on the field and show what he can do."

Jones says he never missed a game to injury in high school. Credit good fortune for that, but also give a nod to his work ethic.

"I take pride in keeping my body up," he said. "You can't just go home and eat whatever you want. It's going to slow you down and prevent you from performing at your top physical ability. I stretch after practice, ice down, things of that nature, just to make sure that I don't get injured."

Jones knows he's not going to be able to block a defensive end one-on-one like bruising teammate Keith Payne (6-3, 255) could do out of the backfield.

Still, he doesn't plan to play soft -- and those around him have noticed the steps he's taking to ensure that he doesn't.

"He's always going through the drills in the weight vest, always in there stretching -- you know, doing the little things that not many people think are important," Aboushi said. "Those little things are going to separate him in the future."

Or maybe right now. We'll find out over the next few weeks and months whether Jones truly can fit.

By his thinking, though, there is no question. Collide, control, command -- whatever the Cavs want, he plans to help them do it.

"I just think it's all a mindset," he said. "That's all football is -- a mindset. If you have the mindset that you can do it, that you're going to beat the person across from you on every play, there's no reason that you can't do it."

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