August 28, 2011

Back on the field

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The offseason has flown by for Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones.

So much, in fact, that the Southern Cal transfer claims he hasn't given much thought that Saturday night's game at the Georgia Dome (8 p.m.) against fifth-ranked Boise State is almost two years after suffering a neck injury that doctors once thought would keep him from playing football ever again.

"I think it was all faith and just believing. I never gave up believing that I could play again. At first it was stressful, but I started talking to my supporters and everything and we started assessing Coach (Mark) Richt and the coaching staff here and the opportunity to play here," Jones said. "God does great things for you, if you keep your head straight. I'm just thankful for my opportunity and I plan to make the best of it."

One can't blame Jones for wanting to put that fateful evening out of his mind.

It was Halloween night in 2009, when Jones' former Southern Cal squad was facing off against Oregon, a night that almost changed the Columbus native's live forever. During the contest, Jones suffered damage to his C-5 vertebrae, an injury that forced him to miss the Trojans' final five games.

At the time Southern Cal doctors had ruled that Jones would not be able to play, despite subsequent second and third opinions which declared that he could resume his football career. Jones was subsequently granted a medical release by head coach Lane Kiffin.

"It was difficult for me because I thought I was healthy. When it first happened, I got cleared by the doctor. He said I was healthy but I needed to sit out the rest of the season so I wouldn't damage my nerve worse," said Jones, who suffered nerve damage to his C-5 vertebrae. "I thought I'd come back in the spring. But we had a new coaching change and all that stuff, so when the new coaches came in I got different answers, which was hard for me because I never really had went back to the doctor for it. They just told me I had a career-ending injury and that I shouldn't play."

But that was then, and this is certainly now.

After using his first year following his transfer to get completely healthy, Jones is anxious to resume a career many thought never would happen.

"I won't say it's butterflies, but once you get out there and you start seeing the lights, it really hits you, so I'm sure it will dawn on me a little bit," he said. "But once you get between the lines, it's time to play and that's something I love doing. Hopefully I won't get bothered by any of the extra stuff that's going on, so I'll just be able to go out there and play my game - make it the best game I can."

Teammates can sense the anticipation Jones is feeling forSaturday night's season-opener.

"I think he's ready, we all are," said fellow linebacker Alec Ogletree. "He's not saying a whole lot about it, but you can tell he's ready to go."

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is certainly anxious to see Jones give it a whirl.

After the NCAA recently cleared the former Carver star of any wrongdoing, follow allegations that he received improper benefits from his former AAU basketball program, Grantham was asked by a reporter how excited he was once he received the news.

"What do you think?" quizzed Grantham, not hiding his excitement regarding the news of Jones, who although he will be starting at Sam linebacker for the Bulldogs, has the ability to play on the inside as well.

"We've got the flexibility to do both with him," Grantham said. "He can play outside or inside, then when you get him you can mix up some third-down stuff where maybe you've got three outside backers in the game or something like that. He gives you the flexibility to do a lot of things."

Jones is just glad to be getting a second chance.

"It's been more of a learning experience," he said. "I learned some things out there at Southern Cal and I've definitely learned some things since I've been here. I just hope that it helps me be a better person, both on and off the field. I'm ready to show what I can do."

Anthony Dasher is the managing editor for UGASports
and he can be reached via email at dash@ugasports.com.