HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Leon Jones has a tough act to follow at North Forrest High School, stepping into the role vacated by 2017 Pine Belt Player of the Year, quarterback Daylyn Croom.
Jones said he can't wait.
"It's a big step for me, but I'm ready to take the jump," said Jones, who was selected as the Eagles' "Player of the Pine Belt. "I'm going to bring everything for my team. I like the challenge coach gave me, and I'm going to take on that challenge. I know I can lead this team to a ring."
Behind the play of Croom, the Eagles made a run to the Class 2A South State semifinals before falling to eventual state champion to finish the season 9-5.
Croom threw for nearly 2,500 yards and 35 touchdowns, while rushing for more than 1,100 yards and 22 scores.
But North Forrest coach Anthony Dillon said the 6-foot-2, 186-pound Jones has the skills to step into the role.
"He was the backup quarterback last year, and actually started a game or two when Daylyn was hurt and we would put him back there when a game was out of hand, so I think he will adjust well," Dillon said. "Of course, there's always pressure, especially after a season like Daylyn had, being Pine Belt Player of the Year, I'm sure he'll feel some pressure.
But we just told him, 'Man, just do what you're being coached to do and let the chips fall where they may.'"
Jones spent the last two seasons primarily at receiver. In 2016, he caught 14 passes for 236 yards and four touchdowns as then-freshman Rhyen Briscoe burst on the scene, coming up with a 1,000-yard receiving season.
Briscoe is back, as well as junior playmaker Eric Robinson, who transferred back to North Forrest after playing at Presbyterian Christian School in 2017.
Jones said he won't have to carry the offensive burden by himself.
"They think that I can (play) this position and help the team win," Jones said. "It's about what I can do with my arm and my legs, and they're expecting me and my wide receivers and offensive line to get the job done."
Dillon said Jones has exhibited the leadership qualities the Eagles' staff was looking for when they turned to him.
"We've been telling him, 'You're a senior, we're looking for leadership from you,' and he's done a tremendous job this offseason," Dillon said. "I don't think he's missed not one day of summer workouts, and that means a lot. He's been a leader, getting guys in and out of the locker room. He's always encouraging those guys that hard work pays off in the end."
But Dillon also acknowledged that Jones likely would face a learning curve as he settles into the position once the season starts.
"For him, it's just going to be about taking snaps and being the person in charge," Dillon said. "Our quarterback is the person who has to get everybody lined up, learn the checks, run the offense. We're just hoping after a few games, at least before (region) play, that he is real confident and will be able to run that offense."
Jones said he's ready.
"I knew my time was coming, so I was preparing myself," Jones said. "Coach told me my time would come, so I was just waiting on it, and now it's here."