Think of Christion Jones in 2011 and it’s likely you’re going to think of Christion Jones in 2012. That’s because his coming out party was really in the final game of the season, the BCS National Championship Game, which was in January, 2012.
He had a pass reception and a punt return against Kent State. He had two catches against North Texas.
But Christion Jones made his Alabama bones in the national championship game when he was thrown into the fire to replace an injured Marquis Maze as a wide receiver, punt returner, and kickoff return man.
What Jones did in the 21-0 win over LSU in the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans was not statistically overwhelming. But it was on the biggest stage in college football against the nation’s number one team who had what many considered to be the number one punter, Brad Wing. Today it’s difficult to remember what a nip-and-tuck game it was until midway through the fourth quarter, but it was pressure-packed.
Jones, a true freshman last year, was on the receiving end of four LSU punts, three of them very deep in Tide territory. He handled all four cleanly and returned one for 15 yards. He also caught one on which he was hit after calling a fair catch, netting another 15 yards for Bama. And he had a 32-yard return on the only kickoff from the Bengal Tigers.
Former Alabama Coach Paul Bryant said catching punts deep in your own territory requires “the guts of a burglar.”
Jones, a 5-11, 185-pound sophomore from Minor High School in Adamsville, said the key to returning punts is “Confidence. You’ve got to have confidence in yourself in what we practice – continuation of catching punts and returning them. You;ve got to keep confidence and the same mindset of doing your job every time.”
Jones said, “It was obviously a lot of pressure. But you just try to stay calm and be focused and keep the things that you practiced so that when you get to that point so you can be confident in yourself. So I feel like my teammates were behind me 100 per cent. My coaches were behind me 100 per cent. So I dealt with it pretty fine.”
It was, he said, “a dream come true.”
Quickly, though, he adds, “But you can't settle in that. You've got to move forward and be ready for the task at hand.”
What is almost at hand is the 2012 season-opener when Alabama takes on Michigan at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, a week from Saturday.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban said, “Christion Jones has done a really good job. He plays fast, he's got great speed, he's very explosive. I've been impressed with him as a return man as well. I think he's the kind of guy who can make a lot of big plays out there. I think he's a lot more confident at the receiver position now. He's had a really good camp and has done a really good job making explosive plays, and being a consistent performer throughout.”
Jones has a reputation among Alabama players beyond football skills. Only one player has named anyone other than Christion Jones as the funny bone of the team. The only one who named someone else was Christion Jones, who said, “Probably Eddie Lacy.”
Jones admitted that, “I just try to uplift guys when we're off the field and keep everything on the field focusing on what we've got to do. But off the field, in the locker room, we all have a good time.”
Sports writers interviewing Jones Thursday night wanted a sample of his most publicized impression, that of Bama Assistant Coach Bobby Williams, who is special teams coordinator.
“I'm going to say that in the locker room right after this,” Jones said.
That’s the kind of confidence a player needs.