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Jones fulfilling promise on LSU's defense

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Chad Jones had a tough choice.

The Houston Astros had drafted him out of high school, a thrill for a kid who made no secret of his love for baseball. Yet, he was an excellent football player and LSU was prepared to let him play both sports, meaning he'd get to line up on the gridiron with his brother, Rahim Alem.

In hindsight, it looks as if going to college was the wiser decision, and Jones shudders at the prospect of what he might have missed had he chosen otherwise.

"I definitely think about that," said Jones, the Tigers' talented safety. "I know I made the best decision possible coming to school, getting an education and playing both sports here for LSU. I have no regrets and there's only better things to come."

He's already won NCAA national championships in football (2007) and baseball (2009). How much better can it get?

Perhaps there's more glory to come this football season. The Tigers are 4-0 and ranked fourth in the nation, thanks in no small part to Jones' emergence.

He intercepted two passes in a victory two weeks ago over Louisiana-Lafayatte. Last weekend at Mississippi State, Jones' unconventional but heady decision to field a bouncing punt inside the 10-yard line produced a 93-yard touchdown return that the Tigers needed to escape Starkville with a 30-26 victory.

"I don't believe it was a risky play," Jones recalled. "I wasn't supposed to catch the ball inside the 10, but the ball took a real soft bounce and they could have easily downed the ball on the 1-yard line and I was thinking, 'I know our offense doesn't want to start off on the 1, so just field it at least on the 5-yard line and get tackled.' I made one move. I saw daylight. Then I had a good block by Brandon Taylor, which freed me up, and I had Patrick Peterson waving me around and everything worked out fine."

So much so that his teammates named him the MVP of the game. Coach Les Miles praised Jones for instinctively knowing the exception to the 10-yard line rule, and for reading blocks so well that he was able to cut across the field, stop, then start again, and make it to the end zone even while running out of steam.

"I felt like I ran 200 yards," Jones said. "I was pretty much gassed. My legs were tired, but my teammates helped me out tremendously."

Alem, who changed his name in 2006 to honor his African heritage, said this week that his younger brother has only begun to blossom.

"I don't think people have seen what he can really do yet simply because of the type of offenses we played against," said Alem, a starting defensive end. "Some of the things he does well, I don't think he's had an opportunity to put it on film yet as far as him being able to cover ground and make plays on balls, things that people would like to see out of a pro-style safety."

Looking ahead to the Tigers' trip to No. 18 Georgia, Alem added, "Hopefully, this game, he'll have a chance."

"I definitely see myself as a dominant force in college football," said Jones, who is 6-foot-3, 231 pounds. "Both my size and my ball skills are real strong. I'm a big body that can tackle ... then I can also run with the fastest people and go up and get the ball with them, so I think my overall game is strong. As long as I just keep my head focused, I think I could be an incredible player."

Jones is easy to recognize on the field with dreadlocks dangling below the edge of his helmet. Fans have started calling him "Dreadlocks of Doom," a fitting name for a hard-hitting defender, though it originated last spring when LSU's baseball team began using him as a relief pitcher.

"That is so corny," Alem said.

"I thought it was kind of funny," Jones said. "I guess they gave me that nickname because they say I look intimidating on the mound. It works fine with me."

Jones looked like a football player in a baseball uniform. He came to LSU as an outfielder, but missed part of last baseball season because of spring football practice and lost his spot. Baseball coach Paul Mainieri wanted to get an athlete of Jones' caliber on the field, so he gave the lefty a chance to pitch, which Jones had done in high school.

Jones threw above 90 miles per hour and wound up with a 2.70 earned-run average in nine relief appearances, including an inning and two-thirds of scoreless relief in LSU's College World Series winning victory over Texas.

Jones might play baseball for LSU again this spring, unless he decides to enter the NFL draft. When he turns pro, he'd like to do so in both sports as Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders once did.

"I love playing both sports. I've been doing it all my life," Jones said. "I just don't feel it would be really right for me to just throw one away."