Back in August, before Jarvis Jones had ever played a down for Georgia, he passed along his sincere thinks to the Bulldog Nation for allowing him back in the state.
Jones, a Columbus, Ga., product, spurned the Bulldogs three years ago when he headed to the West Coast to play for USC.
But, now, in his own words, he’s back where he belongs. And given what he’s meant to this Georgia defense this season, something says the Bulldogs’ fans will be lining up to thank him.
“I think they love me,” Jones said. “I really care about the University of Georgia, the people here, and I really think they care about me.”
The 6-3, 241-pound Jones has been a perfect fit at outside linebacker in Todd Grantham’s 3-4 scheme. He leads the SEC in sacks (13.5) and tackles for loss (19.5).
With one more sack, Jones will break David Pollack’s school record of 14 sacks in a season, set in 2002.
He’s played big in big games (four sacks and a forced fumble in the 24-20 win over Florida), and he’s had an even bigger impact on a Georgia defense that’s played lights out during the Bulldogs’ 10-game winning streak.
“I couldn't have predicted this much productivity as far as sacks and tackles for loss, but we knew we had a special player,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
They knew as early as last season when Jones was a terror on the scout team. Nobody could block him.
“All the things that he's done this year and all the accomplishments he's made and the sack records that he's put up isn't a surprise to me or any of my teammates,” Georgia senior cornerback Brandon Boykin said. “This is his first year really getting adjusted to the defense. He can only continue to get better.
“He'll definitely be one of the great linebackers to lead Georgia.”
Jones, a third-year sophomore, has already said that he will be back next season and isn’t entertaining an early jump to the NFL.
There’s a lot more Jones wants to prove at the college level. He missed the final five games of his freshman season at USC after injuring his neck.
That next year, he wasn’t medically cleared by USC because of the neck injury, and at one point, thought his football career was over. But he decided to transfer and was cleared to play by Georgia’s medical personnel.
“All that stuff is kind of used for motivation,” Jones said. “Being at SC and not being able to play no more, it was a big drop-off for me. It was crazy not being there to play football no more. Now that I've got the opportunity, I take advantage of it every time I step on the field, practice or in the game. I try to leave everything I've got. I try to respect the game.
“They say that if you don't respect the game, the game doesn’t respect you. Every opportunity I get, I try to make something of it.”
There’s been plenty of respect to go around, too.
Grantham said Jones has been just the finisher he was looking for at outside linebacker, but a playmaker in other parts of the game, too. Jones also plays the run well, which will be critical Saturday against an LSU offense that has steamrolled teams in the second half this season with its running game.
But, then, this Georgia defense hasn’t given up much of anything over the past two months. During the 10-game winning streak, the Bulldogs’ first-team defense has allowed just 10 touchdowns.
Jones isn’t taking anything away from LSU’s defense, but he said Georgia’s defense takes a backseat to nobody this season -- including the Tigers.
“I know we've got a pretty good defense,” Jones said. “We're not cocky at all. We're just going to play. We do our job and get out on the field. We like having fun. We love playing football. We're aggressive. We play just as well as them.
“A lot of people don't give us credit of how they play and how we play. I think we play two different styles. I think our defense is just as good as theirs … if not better.”