Wanna be like ‘Mike’

Published 8:32 pm Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Southside middle linebacker James Jones (84) finished the season with 101 tackles and was named the WDN Defensive Player of the Year. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

CHOCOWINITY — How far can heart and determination take a player? Just ask Southside’s James Jones. In 2006 Jones couldn’t even get on the field as he failed to make his seventh grade football team. By his senior season, his coaches couldn’t get him off it.
“I tried out my seventh grade year and didn’t make the team and I told myself that I’m not satisfied with that,” Jones said. “I figured if I keep working I could get better and better.”
That he did as the middle linebacker has progressed each season and in 2011 his high school career ended with one of his finest as he placed second in the Four Rivers Conference Player of the Year voting en route to being named the Washington Daily News Defensive Player of the Year.
This season Jones tallied 101 tackles, 5.5 forced fumbles, four sacks and blocked two extra points for the Seahawks who finished 6-6 which includes a regular season win over a ranked Manteo team and a playoff win over an up-and-coming South Creek squad. While his statistics are strong, it was the middle linebacker’s leadership during practice and game days that left the younger players on the team wanting to be like their ‘Mike.’
“You get a lot of people who are seniors that talk leadership but they don’t follow it up with action. When the young guys see somebody tell them they didn’t stretch good enough and then see them take a day off they don’t believe them,” Southside coach DeWayne Kellum said. “But when you got someone who goes hard everyday they will follow him.
“This year he was our senior leader, going out there leading the stretches and even getting on the other seniors for not putting out a good effort. Not just talking about it, but doing it.”
Jones did it on a weekly basis for the Seahawks, which meant not missing any time despite battling a knee that couldn’t always keep up with the speedy linebacker’s movements.
“He went all year long with a knee that wouldn’t’ stay in place. Never missed a game,” Kellum said. “It pops out of place. If you ever saw us picking him up on the field it was because he was hanging his leg so that we could knock his knee back in place so that he didn’t have to come out of the game.”
“They put it back in place and wrapped it up and then I’m back out there,” Jones said matter-of-factly.
Jones started out the season as Southside’s strongside linebacker but by Week 3 Kellum and his staff decided that his services would be best suited at middle linebacker. Though he never played the position before, the 6-1, 240-pounder was all for it even though his stats would take a hit.
“He was one of our best tacklers plus he’s got the wheels of a Sam linebacker, but the leadership was the main reason (for the switch),” Kellum said. “He gave up a lot because he would have had more tackles at Sam because you can make a false read and recover. The way we do it (at MLB) he’s got to read the guard, center and the fullback. If the fullback’s going one way and the guard’s going the other he has to sit home and decide if it’s a sucker play or not.”
While it took him a little while to adjust, Jones said he loved his new position.
“Once I got the hang of it I liked it,” Jones said. “After that first half of the first game I felt I had some good performances. … At middle linebacker you have to sit home a little longer but react quick. If you make a false read at Mike it can leave a huge gap.”
His ability to make the right reads made him a sturdy presence in the middle, but what made him excel at the position was his lateral quickness.
“He’s going to lay wood to you, and he can back that up. But he’s got something a lot of middle linebackers don’t have: speed to help you to the outside,” Kellum said. “Most middle linebackers, you put them there because they don’t have the speed of outside linebackers so they can contain the inside. He could take on the fullback, secure him and them help us on the outside.”
Aside from making the right reads, Jones also made the right calls as he was relied upon to line up the defense.
“He knew what everybody had to do, which to me is just like a quarterback,” Kellum said. “He jumped right in on that, didn’t miss signals. If for whatever reason we didn’t get a play in quick enough he would call a base look and we could adjust it. That’s valuable.”
The athletic Jones also stars on the track and field team and plays center for the Seahawks basketball team. Jones placed seventh in the state in the shot put last year but said football is his first love.