By Steve Irvine
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. ---- Any questions about Calvin Jones love of football were answered when he first heard a broken ankle ended his initial senior season at UAB.
Upon hearing the news, Jones asked the doctor if he could simply play with the injury instead of having immediate surgery.
"He was like `Yeah, you could play but in the long run, you probably won't be able to walk once your 30,'" Jones said. "I was like `Let me think about that.'"
Logically speaking, there's little to think about after that prognosis. But playing through with the injury seemed like a legitimate choice at the time, according to Jones.
"Being my senior year, I wanted to play through it," Jones said. "I knew the team really needed me. There were a lot of freshmen coming in and I was the starting safety. A lot of people were hurt last year and that leadership on the field really needed to be there."
Jones said he chose to have the surgery after consulting with his family. He then spent the final 10 games of the season on the sideline, which might have been the best thing to happen to him as a college football player. Jones couldn't play so he studied more than ever. He watched what was happening on the field and helped the young safeties learn on the job.
"I actually got to see how everything played out," Jones said. "I learned more about the defense as a whole, that's what safeties need to do."
His return is also helpful for a program that is on its third coaching staff in the past four seasons. He's helped serve as a bridge between staffs for head coach Bill Clark.
"I think it's important to have guys who say `This is what's happened in the past, let's appreciate where we're headed,'" Clark said. "You also need to know `What's the opponent like, what's the travel like.' So those old guys need to help the young guys."
"He's probably one of the smarter guys back there, as far as just understanding what's going on," Clark said. "He's a great communicator. With tempo and all the things going on with changing coverages, he's really good to let the corners and backers know what's going on."
Clark also quickly noticed something else about his most experienced safety. The 5-foot-11, 187-pound Jones doesn't have the prototypical size to play his position. He also noted quickly that didn't stop Jones from making plays.
"We talk to him all the time about you don't have the body to be back here so you better do everything perfectly," Clark said.
It certainly isn't the first time Jones heard he didn't fit the mold to play safety. He heard it as a 150-pound high school safety but that didn't stop him from averaging 10 tackles per game as a senior at Petal High in Mississippi. He heard it in his lone season at Mississippi's Copiah-Lincoln Junior College but still contributed 105 tackles on a team that was ranked 14th nationally. He heard it during his first three years at UAB, including last year's injury-shortened season, but compiled 116 tackles.
|I feel like I'll prove anybody wrong," Jones said. "I'll come up and hit anybody. It's a big motivation to me when people talk about my size. I'm tough and it's all about toughness."
He showed that toughness the first two games last season. The injury occurred sometime before the season began but he thought it was a sprain. He endured the pain during practice and contributed nine tackles against Troy and LSU.
"It's all about the mindset," Jones said. "Coach always tells us that mental toughness is a big part of the game. That's what I had to go through, always believing in God and having him over my shoulders and playing through it. You love football so you're going to do what you have to do to get through the day and be better than what you were the last day."