SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Jarron Jones feels he directly contributed to Notre Dame’s gutting season-ending loss at Stanford.
The redshirt junior nose guard, who tore his MCL during preseason practice in August, had planned to travel to the Bay Area with Notre Dame after Thanksgiving and suit up for his team’s last stand in the College Football Playoff race. Instead, he overslept — he said he fell asleep in the middle of a Call of Duty game — and missed a team breakfast, and because of that transgression, wasn’t allowed to travel with the Irish to Stanford.
So when Conrad Ukropina lined up for his game-winning 45-yard field goal, Jones — knowing full well he’s a field goal blocking specialist — said he could only blame himself for the ball sailing through the uprights and sending Notre Dame to its second loss of the season. Jones figured even if he dressed for the game, he wouldn’t have played much, but if it came down to a game-winning field goal attempt he could’ve gone into the game and tried to get a hand on the kick.
“I felt like if it came down to that last play, Stanford, field goal block, they need somebody like me,” Jones said. “I felt like they would’ve thrown me in there and I felt like I could’ve done something. I blame myself a lot for that game. Even though I didn’t play, I still blame myself for that game.”
Jones, of course, doesn’t deserve blame for Notre Dame losing that game. But that he feels that way speaks to how badly the Rochester, N.Y. native wanted to get on the field after not only missing the entire 2015 regular season, but the final two games of the 2014 season due to a Lisfranc foot injury.
“Especially the game against Clemson, you feel like if you could’ve played you could’ve contributed and given the team something, you probably could’ve changed the outcome of the game,” Jones said.
Instead, Jones focused his energy on the initially-slim hope he’d be able to play in Notre Dame’s bowl game. But after dedicating himself to a grueling rehab process, Jones realized in early November — when he was able to do squats again — that playing again this year was possible.
Coach Brian Kelly said Jones’ dedication to his recovery process allowed him to be in the position he is now, where he’ll be able to play in some capacity against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day.
“I think there’s been a lot of people involved here,” Kelly said. “Jarron, first, has to take responsibility for his own body. So he’s gotta live right, he’s gotta do the right things. (Head trainer) Rob Hunt has done a great job with his part in the rehab, and (strength and conditioning coach) Paul Longo, those two without their work I don’t think we are where we are.
“But I think the maturity element of anybody is important in overcoming an injury that he had during the season. And I would tell you that generally speaking in my time as a head coach, those guys that are able to come back during the season have gotta be responsible young men, because they have to be the ones that are showing up in treatment. You can’t go get them. They gotta be there, they gotta be there on time because we can’t run and go get them. They have to be the ones that show the initiative.
“He’s been really good to work with. If Rob was here right now he’d say Jarron has done a good job all year being at treatments. And you have to be mature, you have to grow up and he’s done that both on and off the field.”
Jones has come a long way from being busted down to scout team in the middle of the 2013 season. He finished the coursework for his major during the 2015 fall semester and only has two more classes to take in the spring to earn his degree in May.
Jones said he probably would’ve turned pro had he been healthy and played to his expectations this fall. Instead, he’ll return for a fifth year next fall, affording him an opportunity to play with his younger brother, Jamir, a linebacker/defensive end who’s a member of Notre Dame’s 2016 recruiting class.
But Jones hasn’t had an opportunity to build on a promising 2014 season, one in which he totaled seven and a half tackles for a loss and flashed an ability to be an interior menace. Against Florida State, he frequently chased Jameis Winston in Notre Dame’s narrow defeat in Tallahassee, and it’s a tantalizing thought to wonder how the Irish would’ve fared with defensive line of a healthy Jones, Sheldon Day, Romeo Okwara and Isaac Rochell this year.
“You just felt like, if I played, what kind of defensive unit would we have had if I played, if we had everybody, what kind of team would we have been,” Jones said. “That’s always going to be the what if, we’re going to have to live with that for the rest of our lives.”
Kelly admitted Notre Dame missed the push Jones is able to provide in the interior the defensive line. Against an Ohio State team powered by elite running back Ezekiel Elliott and dynamic quarterback J.T. Barrett, Jones’ disruptive ability — especially on third downs — will provide a major boost for the Irish defense.
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Jones isn’t sure how many snaps he’ll play in the Fiesta Bowl, but whether it’s 10, 30 or 50 (the latter total is almost certainly unrealistic), he’ll relish the opportunity to get back on the field. He’s already enjoyed getting back on the practice field and isn’t taking the little stuff — like running or stretching with his teammates — for granted.
“I just learned to appreciate everything and realize I’m blessed to have this opportunity to be here because not many people get this opportunity,” Jones said. “Especially you get two significant injuries and you still can be able to contribute to your team, it’s a blessing. I’m just happy to be a part of this team and to do what I can to help this team win.”