It’s been five days since Taiwan Jones took the field against Indiana, and the sophomore linebacker still can’t shake a smile that spans from ear to ear.
That’s because, for the first time in his career, Jones wasn’t on the field for the occasional play or to finish up the end of a blowout.
The MSU football team (4-2 overall, 1-1 Big Ten) was trying to stop the bleeding after the defense was gashed for 27 points and 280 yards in the first half, and turned to the sophomore to help find the answer.
Once he was asked to go in, and realized it would be for an extended period of time, Jones helped the Spartans come from behind to knock off Indiana 31-27, and said he couldn’t believe his chance had finally come.
“I was speechless,” Jones said. “I’m speechless right now because at the time, my mind was racing (and) I didn’t want to make any mistakes, but then after a while, I got comfortable and I just started playing fast and playing well, obviously, and they kept me in.”
The result is a spot on the depth chart as a co-starter with senior linebacker Chris Norman, a somewhat unusual situation, considering Norman’s role as a captain entering his third year as a starter.
Junior Max Bullough said he believes there can be an effective partnership between the two players, and Jones agreed.
“Chris is a phenomenal person, first of all, and he wants to be out there, he wants to be the guy for it and he is the guy for it,” Bullough said of Norman, his fellow team captain and linebacker.
“(Jones is) explosive. You just look at him and he’s a guy that can make a big play at the drop of a hat, so that’s something that our defense really uses because we’re an emotional defense, and when you have that, it can ignite the whole defense.”
Yet the situation still is somewhat awkward because of Norman’s role as a third-year starter and a captain with a strong religious base whom many players look to for leadership.
One of those players is Jones, who said he’s never been in a situation similar to this one before.
“It’s a little different because Chris is like an older brother to me,” Jones said of Norman. “He teaches me things, skills, we have talks, life-related, football-related, and I just try to use the skills he taught me.”
Norman said he’s proud of his pupil, yet is determined to make his mark on the field in his final season on campus.
He added he wasn’t surprised to be taken out of the game because he wasn’t performing to expectations, and said it’s up to him to get better.
“I wasn’t doing my job as a teammate, and it wasn’t good. Coach did what he had to do, and I completely understand it,” Norman said.
“(Jones) did a really good job when he was out there, so congratulations to him, but that’s something that I need to work on. … Work as hard as I can and do the best that I can, and whatever results happen, I’ll be OK with because I know I put my all into it.”