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September 12, 2012
Sacrifice everything and leave nothing.
For Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, those are words to live by. Take Saturday night's SEC opener at Missouri, for example.
Despite feeling the effects of a strained groin suffered late last week, the former Carver standout and USC transfer went out and had a game that made the entire country sit up and take notice, helping the seventh-ranked Bulldogs beat the Tigers in their first-ever SEC game, 41-20.
"It was challenging, you know, but it's all mental. You've got to play with injuries or pain. I'm one of the leaders on this team and guys look up to me so they need to see me play through it and not whine about it. I feel it's my responsibility to give them everything I have," Jones said. "I know those boys play through pain, too. All of us do at some point. You've just got to sacrifice everything and leave nothing ? that's what I always say. It was just my time to do that. I had to go out and give everything I had."
It was a performance that Bulldog fans won't forget anytime soon.
With the game still in doubt, Jones played his best, finishing with nine tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and an interception which he brought back 21 yards to the Missouri 1.
Initially, it appeared that Jones had actually scored his first career touchdown. But after officials took a look, the ball was left on the 1, setting up a short run by freshman running back Todd Gurley to help ice the game.
"I really thought I was in. I've seen the clip and my knee never hit the ground until I was past the end zone," Jones said. "I don't know what happened, but I definitely think it was a touchdown. The main point was we got out of there with a win."
Nose tackle John Jenkins couldn't help but poke a little fun.
"I didn't think he was mobile enough," the 350-pounder joked. "We get on each other all the time, but when I saw him juke their quarterback, I was impressed. He looked incredible out there."
Jenkins wasn't the only one who felt that way. Awards and kudos for Jones have been coming in almost as quickly as it takes him to shed a block and get to the opposing quarterback.
Along with getting a helmet sticker on ESPN and getting the nod as the SEC Defensive Player of the Week, Jones also picked up a couple of national awards from the Walter Camp Foundation and the Maxwell Club as its Chuck Bednarik Player of the Week.
But tooting his own horn simply isn't Jones' style.
"I'm just thankful and grateful for all the opportunities. I go back to Day 1, from not being able to play, to being in this position," Jones said. "There are a lot of people who support me and keep me grounded, my teammates, my family, my community ? everybody keeps me grounded and pushes me to work harder. All these accomplishments are great, but there's more out there. I'm just trying to be the best that I can. Every snap and every opportunity I get I try to do my best."
When it comes to deflecting praise, head coach Mark Richt says Jones reminds him of another recent Bulldog star.
"Some guys say it because they think that's what people want to hear, but Jarvis is sincere about it just like A.J. (Green) was. They are humble guys," Richt said. "They like football and they like their teammates, they like their coaches and they like Georgia. More than anything they just enjoy playing the game."
Jones is even starting to hear his name mentioned as a candidate for college football's ultimate prize.
In a recent column by ESPN.com's Gene Wojciechowski, Jones is listed along with USC's Matt Barkley, and West Virginia's Geno Smith along with three others as players who could be seated on the front row for the Heisman Trophy Ceremony in New York.
"That would be big. I never thought about that one," Jones said. "Just to be in New York would be a great accomplishment for me."
For those counting, only one defensive player has ever won the Heisman Trophy - former Michigan great Charles Woodson in 1997.
But Jones isn't worried about that. He's still looking to improve his craft.
"People don't ever tell you what you didn't do or how you could have done better. Everybody is always patting you on the back and say you did this good, you did that good. But when you watch the film you're like 'Dang, I really played that bad?'" Jones said. "That's how I look at it. How can I improve? I know people are telling me everything I did well, but what did I do badly? What do I need to work on? That's the kind of stuff that I look at, that I base my game off of. I want to know how consistent was I, how much did I use my hands, how much do I need to work on my technique and how much preparation did I put into my game?
According to defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, that's what the great ones do.
"He wants to know what he has to do to get better. He wants to watch the tape and critique himself to find the things he needs to do to become more consistent," Grantham said. "The mark of a good player is when you honestly evaluate film and you can look at yourself on every play and say these are the things you've got to do. When you do that, you end up being really good and that's what he is - a really good player."
Jenkins said that's the kind of effort he sees from Jones every day.
"J.J. is one of those guys, he just clocks in and clocks out and leaves everything on the field," Jenkins said. "I love the guy."
Bulldog opponents might not agree.
After posting some incredible numbers as a sophomore (13.5 sacks, 19.5 tackles for loss), Jones wasn't exactly a secret to opposing teams heading into the 2012 campaign.
In fact, Grantham even warned that opponents would likely scheme in some new tricks to try and slow Jones down.
Through two games, very little has worked.
"Last week I moved around in a lot of different packages," Jones said. "Coach (Grantham) put me on the spot in some plays, some plays I was just out there moving around. They didn't know what I was doing. I just made it look like I was doing something different."
But if opponents want to focus all their attention on slowing Jones, that's fine, too.
"A lot of offenses will try to account for me, but at the same time I just try to do my best and give everything I've got," he said. "If they're going to focus on me, we've got 10 more players on the field who are capable of making the same plays I'm making."
By now, Jones' story is a familiar one to Georgia fans.
A former five-star players according to Rivals.com, Jones started his career at Southern Cal, before a neck injury resulted in Trojans coach Lane Kiffin releasing him from his scholarship before he eventually came to Athens.
Although some wondered if he would ever play again, Jones never wavered, proving he was indeed healthy enough to become to become a college football star.
Having to overcome his injury taught him other lessons as well.
"It definitely bettered my technique. I try not to put myself in tough situations, to be in that predicament again," Jones said. "But it matured me a whole lot. It made me see football from the other side, from not being able to play so I definitely respect the game. It's something that I'm very passionate about, it's something I love. That's why my mentality is what it is about playing football and everything that comes with it. It molded me to the person I am today."
Off the field, Jones' soft-spoken personality contradicts the way he plays the game. On the field, well, it's a different story.
"I'm not an uptight guy at all. I'm very-laid back, very nonchalant, I love having fun but I just try to seize the moment. Anytime I've got a chance to better myself, to better the people around me, I'll do that. I believe in making everyone around me better and just having fun doing it. When I'm on the field, my personality is going to change."
Just ask Missouri quarterback James Franklin.
Following one particular play, Franklin jokingly suggested that perhaps Jones shouldn't 'hit him too hard."
"Yeah, I remember that. (Franklin) is a good guy," he said. "There was this run, I hit him pretty hard and he asked me why I had to hit him so hard. I thought it was a pretty funny. But I like him; we talked a lot during the game."
Barring injury, even more people figure to be talking about Jones, whose first offer as a sophomore at Carver actually came from Clemson - to play tight end.
"Oh yeah, I've still got a little tight end in me," Jones said. "When Orson (Charles) was here, we'd actually work out on the jug machine all the time after practice and catch some balls. I've got some hands, man."
There's certainly no questioning his defensive skills.
"I feel blessed," Jones said. "All I want to do is do my best every day."