Journey to senior year matures IU’s Jones

On his way to speak at Big Ten media days, Indiana linebacker Reakwon Jones pulled out his cell phone, giving his mom, Tanya Mitchell, a glimpse of his gray suit and blue and purple striped tie.

“My baby so handsome!” she proclaimed.

The smile on Jones’ face last Thursday as he recalled that interaction told the story of an athlete and a person who is in a better place than before. Last October, Jones was calling his mother as Hurricane Michael ripped through their home of Panama City, Fla., winds whipping and trees crashing down.

But now there is calm. Even happiness and excitement. Jones, the Hoosiers’ senior linebacker, seemed giddy as he represented the team in Chicago, touting a defense that is young and athletic and a team that is hungry and optimistic.

His family hasn’t been made completely whole since last year’s storm, which badly damaged their home. But they aren’t “living out of a bag no more,” as Jones put it. They have found an apartment and some semblance of normal.

“We’re happy they are alive, together, you know, back at home, back in Panama City,” Jones said. “That’s all that matters to us. Whatever it is, that house, it’s replaceable, but family members ain’t.

“It’s just great. I’m happy to see them happy and back on their feet.”

Jones’ college years have been quite the journey. He didn’t play much his first three seasons, redshirting as a freshman and posting nine tackles combined in 2016 and ‘17. He stepped into a starting role as a redshirt junior, following in the footsteps of an All-Big Ten performer, Tegray Scales.

But something completely off the field — and completely unexpected — took an emotional toll. IU’s players and coaches had to rally around Jones last season. His family visited during the Penn State game, and they all had to stay in his one-bedroom apartment because they couldn’t afford to go anywhere else.

“I’m definitely at peace right now, and it just feels good just to know they are happy, they are safe, and they are able to be together in a stable environment,” Jones said. “We’re not jumping around, hotel to hotel, anymore.”

It is another experience, another piece of perspective for Jones to take with him. Back on the field, entrenched as a starter in the IU linebacking corps, Jones can now take another step forward as a senior leader.

Jones talks a lot about “bringing someone with you,” which is something Scales did all the time. It’s part of building a football family.

“Don’t go to work alone,” Jones said. “Go find two, three, four, five other people that want to go to work. That’s how you get to where you want to be. You are going to get where you want individually by bringing this team with you.”

On his way to workouts, Jones has grabbed sophomore linebackers Micah McFadden and Cam Jones, or redshirt freshman James Miller. He also tries to play the role of encourager, because he remembers what it was like to be young in college football.

Jones says he lost his confidence as he sat the bench those first two years. He had to earn his confidence back in the weight room, pushed by strength coach David Ballou. Jones carried those gains back to the field.

Now, he has a lesson to offer others.

“That’s something I emphasize to the younger guys, don’t lose faith in you,” Jones said. “You’re not here for no reason. You’re here because coaches, everyone, we thought you were a good player in high school and you could really come here and help us.”

Luckily for IU, many of the Hoosiers’ incoming freshmen appear confident. Last week, IU coach Tom Allen talked about “the new wave,” a nickname for the class coined by freshman Tiawan Mullen. They want to be the next push toward a winning culture.

Allen said freshman defensive lineman Jeramy Passmore, a native of Miami, Fla., even got a little irritable when he wasn’t getting reps in the summer.

“He was all mad. I was like ‘You just got here!’” Allen said. “He said ‘Coach, I came here to play.’ I understand. I love that mindset. Don’t lose it.’ You have to talk him through it. But he expects to play.”

Thanks to the NCAA rule that allows freshmen to play four games and retain a redshirt year, players like Passmore should have a better chance to see the field than Jones did as a freshman.

On the defensive line, Allen expects freshmen tackles Sio Nofoagatoto’a and C.J. Person to figure into the rotation. Even freshman defensive end Beau Robbins, who needs to beef up for the Big Ten level, could see time.

“I wish we would have had it earlier,” Allen said of the rule, which was implemented last season. “We have some guys that are older now that played in very few games as freshmen but are seniors now, you wish you had that. It’s a valuable year. You can’t take that time back.”

Whatever wasn’t there during Jones’ journey to his senior year, he is grateful for what he has had. He had excellent mentors to follow. He has had supportive teammates, a crew he believes is ready to take another step in a winning direction.

He still has his family.

When Jones received a text, telling him he would represent IU at Big Ten media days in Chicago, he pulled out his phone.

“I called my mom right away, I had to call her first,” Jones said. “I told my fiance, she was right there when I got the text. It’s a blessing.”

3 comments

  1. I love the attitude of the freshmen wanting to earn playing time right now. Jones and other upper classmen need to bring them along and use that mindset to make this season special for the IUFB team. Jones has gone through a lot and he needs to break through this year to establish himself in the LB room. Getting LBs that can clean up anything that comes through the DL is important this year.

    1. I really like the depth at LB right now. I’m really hoping James Miller has a significant role this season. Miller is that type of LB that RB’s don’t want to see shooting the gap.

  2. I’m keeping my eye on Passmore. Demanding, indomitable, ravenous that’s the attitude IUFB needs to challenge the top 2 in the B1G East. I would call it recruiting the need.

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