All Paul Jones ever wanted was a chance.
He was tired of watching from the bench. He knew he could make a difference.
“Hey, just be prepared mentally when your number is called,” his father, Paul Jones Sr., told him.
So when Jones finally got his chance to leave a mark on his little league baseball game, he delivered.
“I remember like it was yesterday that his number was called and he came in and produced,” Jones’ father said. “He had two hits in places where the team really needed a spark.”
A decade later, the redshirt sophomore’s father finds himself offering similar encouragements to Jones, who he said has endured more in the past three years than most people go through in a lifetime.
From struggling through a season of academic ineligibility to losing multiple quarterback battles, Jones’ career had been far from ideal heading into this season.
But now, with a position change and reception under his belt, Jones has begun writing the latest chapter of his football career with a clean slate.
The hesitant switch
For a brief 20-minute period about two weeks ago, Jones said he had enough.
After losing quarterback battles to senior Matt McGloin in the spring, and freshman Steven Bench in the fall, he wasn’t interested in another adjustment.
Coach Bill O’Brien asked Jones to switch from quarterback to tight end after the season opener against Ohio.
In the past, Jones had joked with his coach about trying out the new position, despite never having played receiver in his life.
“We were watching Patriots’ film and Aaron Hernandez caught a lot of balls that game, and I said, ‘Coach, that’s me,’ just joking around,” Jones said.
“Then we had a talk and he said, ‘Well, you should try.’
He ran a few routes in practice after the Ohio game. At 6-foot-3, 258 pounds, Jones said his coaches saw him as a natural receiver.
Yet, the redshirt sophomore wasn’t sold.
“I wasn’t thinking about the whole big picture or anything,” Jones said. “I didn’t want to play the position at all….I actually quit for about 20 minutes.”
Since he still had dreams of being the team’s No. 1 quarterback, Jones didn’t buy in. He temporarily gave up on trying to be a receiver.
“I was so frustrated with everything,” he said. “And at first, I was kind of shocked that I was asked to switch positions.”
Although he admitted he doesn’t have a typical quarterback makeup — “I’m 255 [pounds] without trying,” he laughed — Jones said he was scared to take a chance because he didn’t know how good he could be at the tight end position.
O’Brien said he didn’t force Jones to do anything. It was his decision to make.
“Obviously, it comes down to him and his willingness to do it,” O’Brien said. “He’s a team player. He loves the team. He loves Penn State. He just knew that he wasn’t going to get as much time at quarterback right now.”
So, in the end, Jones said he didn’t come this far just to waste a legitimate opportunity to see live action.
“Then I just thought about everything else me and coach O’Brien talked about,” Jones said.
“And I didn’t really have anything to lose with this new position so I figured I might as well just go ahead with an open mind and just try it out.”
Jones’ father said his son showed his willingness to evade the spotlight.
“We all want to shine. We all want to be the story,” Jones Sr. said. “And I think Paul Jr., because of the things that have transpired, I think Paul has really been reaping the benefits of being resilient, of being patient.”
On second-and-five in the second quarter against Navy, McGloin rolled out and Jones turned to see the ball coming directly into his body.
He was nervous. And why shouldn’t he be?
“It felt weird, I’m not gonna lie,” Jones said. “That was my first catch I ever caught in a game. Ever.”
But, from there, Jones let his instincts take over.
“Then after I caught it, my body just went numb and [I] stopped thinking,” Jones said. “I just reacted to everything.”
The tight end turned the corner to finish a seven-yard completion, resulting in a first down.
Heading to the sideline, Jones’ teammates swarmed him in celebration. Bench, the No. 2 quarterback who beat out Jones, led the way with a huge bear hug. They understood how much this meant to him.
“Just going out there making a catch, it really got a lot of guys excited for him, moving from quarterback to over there,” linebacker Michael Mauti said.
Jones’ father said his son has always put the team first and many players have come up to him saying Jones is “the perfect teammate.”
“He’s a Nittany Lion at heart, nothing more,” Jones Sr. said.
This is far from the end of Jones’ tale, however. Now, he hopes it’s time for him to consistently make a difference for the Lions.
O’Brien said he is already beyond pleased with what Jones has shown.
“He’s just a 260-pound guy that can run,” O’Brien said. “He’s smart. He’s tough. He can catch the ball as you can see on that one catch he made. He can pluck the ball and advance it up the field.”
O’Brien said Jones has earned more reps at tight end in future games.
The former quarterback does admit he misses his first true love. In fact, his father said he wouldn’t rule out the chances of his son ending up back under center playing quarterback before he graduates.
However, Jones said he finds enjoyment in suddenly being relaxed on the field.
“It’s having fun,” Jones said of playing tight end. “Although I still have to make reads, I don’t have to have all the pressure of being a quarterback. I can just relax and just run my routes, block my assignment and just have fun during the game.”
Of course, Jones didn’t have a breakout game in his debut against Navy. But, as he joked, the transition isn’t going to happen overnight.
“Me and McGloin were joking around,” Jones said. “He said, ‘You only had one catch.’ And I told him, ‘You have to start somewhere.’ It was way more than I expected to get when I first came on campus. But it felt good to be out there and playing with my brothers.”