Bruce Jones didn’t catch the opponent’s name and can’t remember the jersey number — just that he was a grain-silo sized offensive tackle from Kansas State. It very well could have been Cornelius Lucas, who is listed at 6-foot-9 and 328 pounds.
This guy sure seemed 6-9 and 328.
Which made him skeptical to see someone 5-7, 180 willing to scrap.
When the big fella stepped into Bruce Jones’ gap that afternoon last October, the Texas Tech cornerback shifted down into the box to engage him. Jones charged forward and unloaded with everything he had.
“I tried to run through him ,” Jones said, laughing at the recollection. “I gave it my all, and he barely moved. He was like, ‘OK, I see you working, but you’re just too little for me. That’s all it is. You don’t have any business in here.’
“I tried so hard to just move him a little bit,” Jones said. “He did not budge. He was huge.”
Nevertheless, the story illustrates a point regarding Jones: He doesn’t back down or beg off from confrontation. For a short cornerback, he’s a willing and sure tackler, and if that’s a surprise, then well, you don’t know Jones the way Sadale Foster does. The two were opponents starting around age 16 and then teammates in college.
“Ever since I’ve known him, he’s been a scrappy guy,” said Foster, the Tech running back and receiver. “He wants to get in there and be that guy that’s trying to make big hits. Bruce is a guy who’s probably around 5-8, but the way he plays the game, in his mind, he feels like he’s 6-3. I love that about him. He has confidence unlike anyone else.”
That rock-solid self-assurance might come in even more handy this year. Jones is a senior, Tech’s returning leader in pass breakups and the acknowledged No. 1 corner on a roster with no other established corners.
On the other hand, Jones doesn’t see his approach for 2013 being much different than it was in 2012.
“It’s the same as any year, I would say,” Jones said. “A little bit more is expected out of me, from myself and from coaches, just because I’m a senior. I feel like it’s my time to do it. But as a corner, you’ve always got a lot of responsibility.”
Maybe it’s not surprising that 27 of Jones’ 31 tackles last season were solos. Cornerbacks often patrol a lonely territory. However, quite a few of those stops came when Jones zeroed in off the corner to smack a running back or a quarterback on an option keeper.
He had a sense for how to do that. When Jones played at Roosevelt High School in Eastvale, Calif., coaches put him at linebacker for his first year as a varsity starter. He made first-team all-conference, and if Jones’ memory is correct, he got the second-most votes at the position. The linebacker who garnered the most support of the league’s coaches was Vontaze Burfict, who later starred at Arizona State and now plays for the Cincinnati Bengals.
“I ended up making a big impact, and it was crazy,” Jones said. “Especially back then. I think I only weighed just 160 pounds at the time, playing middle linebacker and outside. It was fun. Good memories.”
If Jones’ willingness to knock heads wasn’t established before then, it was from then on.
Even today, he says, the time spent as a linebacker comes into play when he’s tangling with much bigger players in the Big 12.
“Oh, yeah. Of course,” he said. “If you watch film, anytime I stepped down into the box, when there was a tight end to my side, I usually fitted up my gap right or made the tackle. I’m just used to playing in those trenches.
“You’ve got to have the mental commitment to do it nowadays, because of how big the linemen are. I have that commitment.”
The tenacious approach is something Jones shares with Foster. Both are 5-7, a tick or two more than 180 pounds. Neither needed a year of indoctrination to immediately help the Red Raiders last season.
“We both have short man’s complex,” Foster said. “The little things get to us. We’re passionate about the game. We both want the best for the team.
“Being short or undersized, that’s never been a problem to us. We’ve never seen it as anything that hinders us or makes us any different from anybody else on the field. We see it as something that makes us want to work harder and be better, to open people’s eyes and let them know people our size can play as well.”
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