May 25, 2010

SEC West trio out front in race for Tupelo lineman

P.J. Jones is happy these days.

In fact, the Tupelo, Miss., defensive lineman is downright giddy.

And why wouldn't he be? Jones has picked up scholarship offers from all over the Southeast and he's completely healthy again, months after enduring an injury-wracked junior season.

"Spring went real well," Jones said. "We got back to basics and I had fun. I got back in the rhythm."

Jones, a 6-foot-3 , 260-pounder, suffered a hip pointer early last season, one that he repeatedly aggravated. Then a teammate fell on him awkwardly, cracking Jones' ankle in two places. Jones played through the pain, but his game suffered.

"I was doing all right to do anything," Jones said.

Still, Jones' stock has soared. Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee checked him out this spring. Jones said he picked up offers from "just about the whole SEC West," as well as Alcorn State, Arkansas State and UCLA.

"I was kind of expecting it," Jones said of the high interest level. "I played my junior year hurt after I shined my sophomore year. I just worked hard. I went to Texas to the All-American combine and did real well."

Jones said he wants to improve his speed between now and the start of his senior season at Tupelo. Jones said he's running a 4.9-second 40-yard dash, a time that he wants to reduce to 4.7 seconds.

"I believe I got to a weight I need to get to," Jones said. "I've gotten my power. Now I just need to work on my speed."

One reason for the emphasis on quickness is Jones isn't ready to give up his dream of rushing quarterbacks from the edge on Saturdays.

"I think I could play both (end and tackle)," Jones said. "I'm big but I can still move. I still like playing end. Who knows? I hope to play end, but if I get bigger, I'm going to get (moved inside). Who knows?"

As for recruiting, Jones said he's trying to keep it in perspective while he works to "stay focused, keep competing and working hard and keep improving my game. This is the only senior season I'll ever get. I want to make it special."

Still, three schools _ and one, in particular _ stand out. Jones said Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Alabama make up his top three right now, and the Crimson Tide is the leader in the proverbial clubhouse.

"Arkansas is in the mix, but Alabama is the front-runner," Jones said. "They just play winning football. They had 92,000 at the spring game and I'm sure if they had the (addition to Bryant-Denny Stadium) finished, they'd have had 100,000 there."

Jones, who has a 3.1 core grade-point average to go along with an 18 on the ACT, said the Tide's lead is significant, but he added that the two SEC schools in his home state could make up the difference between now and early February.

"I'm giving everybody a look," Jones said, adding that he plans to camp at both Ole Miss and Alabama next weekend. "I grew up with (former Tupelo star/Mississippi State rising sophomore wide receiver) Chad Bumphis and Mississippi State has a hometown feel to it. That's a factor. Then Ole Miss is losing a lot of defensive linemen and they're talking to me about coming in and playing early. That's a factor, too. And Alabama just won the national championship. What else do you need to say? But who knows?"

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