LAUREL, Miss. (WDAM) - Defensive end Jo’i Jones is ready to get back on the football field after a blood disorder cost him all but two games of his junior season at Northeast High School.
The Tigers certainly are glad to have their high-motor man back in full gear for his final year.
“Just a great kid,” Northeast Jones coach Keith Braddock said. “A fun kid to coach, kind of a goofy kid. He’s got some funny, quirky ways if you see him in the hall, and I mean that in a fun way. He loves the arts. He’s in show choir and he can sing and dance.
“But when he puts that helmet on, he transforms into a gladiator. He’s a special player. Him not playing last year hurt us on defense.”
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Jones, who was selected Northeast Jones’ “Player of the Pine Belt,” said he’s primed to return.
“All the hard work, the practicing, you just want to see everything pay off your season year,” Jones said. “That’s the year you’re really looking forward to. A lot of college scouts are looking at you, so you want to see everything pay off.
“I’m just really looking forward to being back out there.”
The Class 4A Tigers went through some tough times in 2018, with multiple injuries adding to the woes over the course of a 1-9 season.
“You’re going to go through bad years,” Braddock said. “That’s going to happen. You’ve just got to work harder and believe and pull together. That’s what makes it so special, to see how these guys have come out and worked after last year and want to get this thing back to where it’s supposed to be. That’s going to happen. I’m convinced that’s going to happen.
“It means something. It means something to the kids, to the community, to the fans, and that’s one reason why (the bad years) hurt so bad.”
During a recent summer workout, the 2019 Tigers appeared to be a larger team than last year, with far more bigger bodies around the practice field.
“We’ve grown over the last year, size-wise,” said Braddock, who enters his eighth season at his alma mater. “We’ve got a few more, bigger kids who are plugged in. We think that’s something that can benefit us, that size, as well as the numbers, where maybe we can wear some people down late.
“This summer, our attendance has been as good as it’s been since my second or third year here, and that’s just a testament to the kids.”
Kids like Jones, who could be a difference maker coming off the edge.
“He’s a good pass rusher,” Braddock said. “He provides a tremendous amount of speed. He’s a tall, lanky guy, so he gets great leverage. But he provides a lot of speed for us on defense.
“He has a high motor. When he walks through that gate, his motor runs.”
That just comes with the territory, Jones said.
“As a defensive end, you’ve got to have your own motor,” Jones said. “You’re really just motivating yourself. You do what you have to do. You have to give it your all every play. You can’t take any plays off.
“We’ve been in weight room. We’ve been doing really good, conditioning. We’re going to come back a whole new team this year. We’ve got a whole new mindset this year from last year. I’m expecting to win every game this year.”