Jarvis Jones ready to lead after Georgia's rocky offseason
ATHENS, Ga. (WRCB) -- A rough offseason for the University of Georgia hit a little harder for Jarvis Jones.
The rising junior linebacker is the captain of a defensive unit that had four players suspended for the start of the season for various off-the-field problems, but also the hometown friend of running back Isaiah Crowell, who was dismissed from following a June arrest on weapons charges.
"It's been very hard, still to this day, because Isaiah was like a little brother to me and always has been," Jones said last week at SEC Media Days. "He had been working so hard this year training and leading the running backs, and he was doing so well in school.
"For something like that to happen it's definitely devastating for me, but when you make mistakes you have to learn from them."
Jones vowed upon his arrival in Athens he wouldn't make those types of mistakes.
After starting his career at Southern Cal, the Columbus, Ga., native injured his neck eight games into the 2009 season and couldn't get clearance from the USC medical staff to return to the field.
He was granted his release in the summer of 2010 and eventually transferred to Georgia where he was cleared to resume his career. It was then that he made a promise to his new coach.
"Georgia gave me my second opportunity and I really wanted to make the most out of it," Jones said. "I told coach (Mark) Richt that every day I'm here at Georgia, I'm going to give you everything I got.
"Now I sacrifice everything I've got for myself and my teammates."
Richt said that commitment was immediately obvious.
Jones was forced to sit out a transfer year, but refused to pout and become lazy. Instead, pushed coaches for reps on the scout team working against the first-team offense.
"Once he got the medical clearance to practice, he immediately wanted to be on the scout team," Richt recalled. "He said, 'Coach, let me practice with them. Let me get better and help the offensive team get better with my work on the scout team."
Back on the field, Jones made sure his fellow scout team members took it as seriously as he did.
"I took initiative and become the leader of that unit," he said. "I made sure that everything we did, we were going to do it 100-percent."
Jones carried that same drive onto the field in 2011, where he quickly made the transition to outside linebacker in Todd Grantham's 3-4 scheme.
Showing no signs of his 2009 injury, Jones recorded 70 tackles and led the SEC with 13.5 sacks. He was named a first-team All-American and was one of three finalists for the Butkus Award that goes out annually to the nation's top linebacker.
Being three years removed from high school, Jones' breakout made him a hot topic in conversations for possible early-entries into the NFL Draft. However, he quickly shot down the speculation by honoring his commitment to Richt.
"He was draft eligible and was definitely a first round draft pick, but he doesn't even turn his papers into the NFL," Richt said. "He immediately says, 'I'm not ready. I want to play another season with this team and win and do something special.'"
Not only did Jones come back, but he helped convince nine other Bulldogs who did turn in NFL paperwork to return for another season between the hedges.
"A lot of guys could have went and been millionaires right now, but they sacrificed their NFL careers for a year to better themselves as athletes and young men," Jones said. "We've got a lot of growing up to do."
Not to mention some unfinished business.
After reeling off ten straight wins, Georgia stumbled to the finish with back-to-back losses to LSU in the SEC Championship Game and Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl. The disappointment still resonates with Jones.
He was the spark that ignited a defense that ranked top-five in the country a year ago, and the lackluster finish is fueling him and his teammates to be even better in 2012.
"I'm passionate about what I do and dedicated to what I do," Jones said. "We work hard and grind just as hard as everybody do. We're going to make plays and have fun doing it. When you look at our stats, they're going to show it."