When you look across the landscape of college football these days, athletes have transformed into nothing short of spectacular beings. Gone are the days of gritty lineman that fit the mold more as linebackers in today's game. 50 years ago, an athlete of defensive lineman Chris Jones' stature would be seen as almost superhuman. On the surface, Jones is as scary of an athletic specimen that one will find in football. On the inside, he's just a kid that loves to joke around.
It almost seemed like a joke at the time, but maybe Jones was serious about the recent quarterback situation. With the top two quarterbacks possibly on the shelf with injuries, he's petitioned himself as a player that should get a shot taking snaps.
"I told them to put me back there," Jones said with a grin. "I can be the Cam Newton Jr. The next big thing in the making."
Jones is becoming the next big thing on his own side of the ball, though. The former All-American out of high school and a consensus five-star player came from humble beginnings in Houston, Miss. Jones has carried that humility to the next level, but he knows how good he can be. More so, opposing linemen know how good he can be as they're already doubling the true freshman.
"It's great to be a freshman and get double teamed," Jones said. "It opens up the holes for other guys to make plays."
What's even more impressive is the freshman is making his own plays despite the double teams. The 6-5, 305 physical specimen has accumulated 24 tackles this season with 2.0 sacks and 5.0 tackles for loss playing almost exclusively at defensive tackle. The position is one that he wasn't used to coming out of high school, but he's played it well and is still learning.
Jones has reeled in both of his sacks against two of the more impressive offensive lines in the country in LSU and last week against Alabama. The latter sack might have been the most impressive play of the season as he got past two Tide blockers and slung A.J. McCarron to the ground.
"We ran a stunt and I kind of felt like a double team was coming," Jones said of his big sack. "Ryan Brown drew them in and I ran to the outside and the lane was clear. It kind of shocked me because it hasn't been like that all year."
Things aren't easy for him now and they certainly weren't as easy as he maybe thought they would be when he enrolled at MSU after a less than challenging senior season. His defensive coordinator mentioned that defensive line coach David Turner has had to temper expectations with the monster lineman and start with the basics to form him into a formidable force for years to come.
"Coach Turner is with him most of the time and he does a great job with him just managing the expectations," Geoff Collins said. "I think when he first got here he was such a highly recruited kid and coach Turner did a great job making sure he understood that he had to get his technique and fundamentals down before things could start working for him and not to get frustrated when it didn't happen. I think we're starting to see the rewards of that right now."
Those expectations were that Jones would have an immediate impact on the college level. To what extent, no one could have predicted either way. The coaches knew that they needed him on the roster because of the special talent that he had and there was no denying that he would eventually make a splash. Fans might be seeing it sooner than even they expected and his raw ability has a lot to do with that.
"He's one of the biggest, most physical, naturally gifted kids I've ever been around," Collins said. "I was with Calvin Johnson at Georgia Tech and that's a completely different dynamic, but they've got that same type of physical presence at his position. He's the 'Megatron' of the Starkville defense I guess."
Jones looks at the MSU program as a whole just as many do him. There's loads of talent across the board for the Bulldogs but it's all a process in his eyes. He thinks that there's no denying the team's progression in his first year. His expectations are big for the future.
"I feel like this year is just a building year for this group of guys," Jones said. "I feel like next year we're going to have a shot at being a top-5 team in the country."
One of the biggest reasons that the big man feels that way is the crew that he has surrounding him on the defensive line. A young but talented group, the players around him has helped push him to his fullest potential. Players like Preston Smith and P.J. Jones are the key to Jones' success in his eyes.
"I look up to those guys and they help me with other things," Jones said of his line brethren. "They're a great group of guys and I follow in their footsteps."
The group might not have had a bigger impact in a game than they did last week against the nation's #1 team in Alabama. The Bulldog defense racked up 7.0 tackles for loss and picked McCarron twice thanks to the pressure they put on him in the pocket. Jones still sees areas of improvement but knows that the team is not far off from big things.
"I feel like we played great defense as a whole, but we all made errors that we can fix this week as we get ready for Arkansas," Jones said. "We really don't have a lot to work on just working on the same things we did against Alabama. Our defense is built for the ground and pound."
"We came into the game thinking that we could be the first team to upset those guys. All of us have faith in the locker room and they can be beat. We just made a few mistakes. Maybe next year."
From the time one starts a conversation with the frightening pass rusher until the time that conversation ends; Jones turns in to a different individual than is seen on the field. His head coach gives him a slap on the back mid-answer and Jones shrugs it off before busting a chuckle over Dan Mullen.
"You know coach Mullen, he's hilarious. That's my guy right there," Jones said with a laugh. "He throws out little Houston jokes all the time trying to be hilarious. I have to bump him sometimes and tell him to chill out."
You see, Jones is the same kid he has always been growing up down the road in rural Houston where playing outside tackle football or basketball on a raggedy goal humors kids like Jones growing up. It's helped build the type of player that he is as well as the personality that he's developed as a leader and a fun human being.
"He's got a great personality. He's a kid that walks into the room and you can just feel the energy change a little bit," Collins said of his talented tackler. "I think we're starting to see that on the football field too and I think that's a positive for everybody."
Fans see it even in the pregame with the giant Jones shows up even more larger than life on the giant high-definition video board at Davis Wade. The freshman has taken his place in the middle of the circle giving the pregame juice to his respective teammates. It's nothing new to "the natural"
"I've just always been confident in myself. You've got to be confident in yourself to believe. So I always have faith in myself. It's just my personality, I love to win," Jones assuredly said. "Whatever I do I'm going to believe 100% that I'm going to go out there and win. By me being that type of person I try to inspire my teammates to be the type of guy that I am and to always have faith in themselves."