DaQuan Jones: “It’s My Time To Shine”
DaQuan Jones was a standout in both football and basketball at Johnson City High School in 2009 when he was recruited by Joe Paterno. Jones was ranked the No. 2 offensive lineman in New York by Rivals back then, but he now looks to be one of the best defensive linemen in the country.
He saw his first extensive play last year as a starter on a strong Penn State defense, but will take on an even larger role in 2013 after four defensive linemen graduated last season. Jones is the starting defensive tackle, the anchor of the defensive line, and a true leader for both the defense and the team as a whole.
“He’s going to be tough to handle this year because he’s powerful, he’s strong, he’s smart and he’s worked extremely hard to get to this point,” Bill O’Brien said.
If Saturday was a look at what Jones is capable of doing this season, O’Brien is right.
“DaQuan had an excellent football game,” O’Brien said. “We use the phrase ‘Next Level’ and there’s a prime example of a guy that did it. He played very physically in the game and made a lot of really key stops for us.”
Jones had a great game in the opener against Syracuse. He led the team with nine tackles (eight solo), adding three tackles for a loss and one sack. One reason that he’s been able to become more physical and more agile this season is thanks to a diet that helped him drop almost 15 pounds in the offseason.
“During the offseason one of the things we talked about with him, myself, and Larry Johnson was to lose weight,” O’Brien said. “We felt like if he lost weight he would be quicker and more explosive because he could lose weight and gain strength and he did it. He went out and did it.”
Jones weighed in at 327 pounds towards the end of last season and is listed as being at 315 now. It certainly wasn’t easy for him, but he’s become a stronger and faster player in the process. “It was just eating different foods, more fish and stuff like that,” Jones said. “Staying away from the sweet stuff has really helped me out. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Wings Over, but I was eating a lot of that.”
While O’Brien said that he and Johnson were responsible for the weight loss idea, Jones took some credit for himself as well. “I was going into my last year, just knowing that it’s my time to shine,” he said. “It was tough because you really just have to keep believing that it’s going to work and over time you just start losing weight.”
But weight loss isn’t the only challenge that Jones has faced off of the football field. The classroom has been another hurdle for the defensive tackle to overcome, but a few academic issues weren’t going to stand in his way.
“Academically, I did struggle,” Jones said. “Last semester and last year I had to buckle down and really take the time to go to study hours and meet my advisor and stuff like that. And right now, I feel more comfortable in school.”
Jones’ successes in the classroom just further speak to his character and how it’s helped him become a better football player.
“It goes back to the individual,” O’Brien said. “He’s a fantastic kid. You talk about a guy that’s overcome the odds in the classroom, overcome the odds on the football field. He’s a great kid to coach, one of the leaders of our football team, and hopefully he continues to play well.”
In his fourth year under Larry Johnson, Jones is primed to have a breakout season just as so many have before.
“All he’s been telling me is that it’s my time,” Jones said. “Going into my fourth year I really do feel more comfortable, just teaching other guys and taking more of a leadership role.”
There’s a long list of great defensive linemen that have preceded Jones, such as Jordan Hill, Devon Still, or Jared Odrick, but he isn’t worried about who wore the blue and white before him.
“I just want to go out there and play my game,” he said. “I didn’t come here to play in anybody’s shadows.”