Prep football: Oak Hill's Jones ready to dissect defenses
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When all eyes focus on Oak Hill's Jalen Jones, the Red Devil running back looks two and three steps ahead of opposing defenses.
Jones, Class AAA's leading returning rusher, possesses the physical traits but more importantly the mental capacity to anticipate defenders and continue his pursuit toward success, something he plans to duplicate this, his senior season.
"He's got vision that you can't teach," Oak Hill Coach Eddie Souk said. "He's got the vision that he sees what's going on."
For Jones, that ability to diagnose the defense in a split second comes as second nature.
"I try to - instead of getting hit a lot - try to avoid the contact and see what I can work with, and I go out there and look around and see what I got, and it just comes naturally," he said. "It just comes to me and I hit that one step and I'm gone."
That vision propelled Jones to 2,194 rushing yards on 205 carries last season, an average of 10.7 yards per rush.
No matter the down-and-distance, Souk said any situation fits Jones' skill set.
"He's the type of back you want him to have the ball on third down, you want him to have the ball in hands on first down," Souk said. "He's going to get you close to the sticks on first down and he'll take you over the sticks on second down or third down, so he's that type of back that he can make a few moves and make a few things happen and pick up that extra yard."
As most talented backs do, Jones gives much credit to his offensive line for his success. With many returning linemen this season, Jones has no reason to doubt his potential to replicate or even surpass last season's accomplishments.
"I got the whole line coming back, so they help me a lot: open up the holes, making sure they got their blocks, and I just try to use my vision to get out there and help my team win," Jones said.
"I can't stress enough it's not just one player, it's the whole team. The line, they got my back.
"As long as they got my back, I just put it in the end zone and try to help my team out."
Because of his confidence in the line's execution, Jones said he's altered his running style
"I used to look for the edge, but now that my line has gotten better with the blocking schemes, I love to go in between the tackles and the guards and just follow my crease to the outside," he said. "Once I get out to the outside or one-on-one, I usually take advantage of it."
At approximately 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, Jones combines speed and strength to his advantage, Souk said.
"He runs hard inside," said Souk, who took over the Oak Hill program after the school absorbed Mount Hope, where he previously coached.
"He likes to take the ball inside if we can run an iso or something with him inside. He's got speed on the outside. On second step, he's going full speed."
In addition to physical ability, Jones demonstrates the more cerebral characteristics of a successful running back, too, Souk said.
"We'll go in the film room and he'll look at the defense and he'll see what he can do that's going to be the best move for him to make," Souk said of Jones' study. "He'll tell us in the film room when you cut back inside he's ready to come back across the middle or he'll say 'I can break outside on this.'
"When game time comes, he'll come to the sideline and he'll say 'Coach, if we can get a chip on this linebacker, I believe I can take this thing right up inside on them.' He's got good vision, a good understanding of the game."
With a solid line before him and one last season to cap his high school career, Jones said he envisions a great year ahead.
"Senior year, I think we have a lot of talent and I'm just ready to work with the guys and try to lead my team to some victories, especially into the playoffs," Jones said, "and just go out with a good year in my senior year to show the colleges what I got."