Keeping up with Jones no easy job

Pitt's freshman WR likely game-changer

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Pitt freshman receiver Ronald Jones and Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen are from the same town and high school in Florida and McCutchen's father, Lorenzo, coached Jones in baseball and football.

But that is not the main reason McCutchen is one of Jones' favorite athletes -- it has more to do with the fact that he looks at McCutchen -- a small athlete who has used his blazing speed and great athleticism to rise to the top of his sport -- as inspiration.

Jones is 5 feet 8, 165 pounds and used to hearing people tell him he is too small to succeed in his sport. He also is used to proving them wrong. He appears to be at it again, quickly ascending the depth chart at Pitt and becoming a player whom head coach Todd Graham has called "a star in the making."


The opener
  • Game: Panthers vs. Buffalo.
  • When: 6 p.m. Sept. 3.
  • Where: Heinz Field.

Pitt was the only BCS conference school to offer Jones a scholarship. He likely wouldn't have gotten an offer from Pitt, but Graham and his staff were hired in January, just weeks before national signing day, and they scrambled to attract scholarship players.

"You only need one opportunity," Jones said, "and I got it, so now it is up to me to make the most of it, and I intend to."

Jones played quarterback at Fort Meade High School, and was likely to accept a scholarship from Georgia Southern when Graham called Jones, told him he had watched tapes of him and asked Jones to visit Pitt's campus.

Jones quickly accepted the offer, but his addition to the recruiting class did not generate much excitement outside of the Panthers' offices.

The coaching staff, however, was thrilled, and nothing they have seen from him has changed their opinion that they landed a gem.

Jones will play a lot at receiver and figure prominently in the return game.

"Even though he was a quarterback, when I watched his film, his foot speed, change of direction, his quickness -- all the things you look for in a slot receiver, they were evident," said Pitt receivers coach Mike Norvell.

"He was overlooked because of his size, I'm sure, but, boy, we really liked what we saw and then we did some research and found out he played receiver as a sophomore, so he had experience.

"When I watched his highlight film, that burst and change of direction, boy, it got me excited. And in the two weeks since he's been here, he's just been really, really impressive in everything he's done."

Norvell said Jones has been a game-breaker in scrimmages and live team drills and has worked hard to improve his route-running and learn the finer points of being a receiver.

Graham said he does not like to make comparisons between players, particularly when it involves a freshman, but he couldn't help it with Jones, who he said reminds him of Tulsa star Damaris Johnson, who holds the NCAA all-time records for all-purpose yards (7,796) and career kickoff return yardage (3,417) despite being 5-8, 170 . Graham coached Johnson at Tulsa.

"Probably why I'm so excited about [Jones] is that I just coached a kid [Johnson] who was one of the most phenomenal kids I've ever been around, who was just a game-changer," Graham said. "And Ronald has a lot of those same characteristics. He has to get better as a route-runner, but he is going to have a significant impact.

"Once he gets that ball in his hands, he can do some special things, and that's important in our offense -- to have a guy who can catch the ball, make a guy miss and then go 40 or 50 yards with it."

Jones, who threw for 1,698 yards and 20 touchdowns and rushed for 624 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, said he is excited about his role in Graham's spread offense.

In a scrimmage Saturday, he stole the show by returning a punt for a touchdown on a play that Graham said made him think 'Wow, I didn't know he could that ..."

"I just see myself as a guy who can make big plays when I get in the game, but I really just want to help the team," Jones said. "My intentions coming out of high school was to play receiver because of my height. At first, I struggled, but I've stayed after the practices and caught some balls, and it has paid off."

Jones said he has not reached out to McCutchen since he has been in town, but he intends to once he gets settled.

He said his transition on the field has been the easy part of going to Pitt but getting used to a new culture and climate could take time.

"They talk a lot differently here, they tell me they can't understand me and what I'm trying to say," said Jones, who has a thick South Florida accent. "This morning, I was cold, I'm not used to all that cold weather, and they told me it isn't even cold yet. I'll be fine, I just need to get a big jacket and get used to it.

"This cold isn't going to slow me down."



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