Sept. 23, 1998
by Brian Hennessy
Patience is a virtue, a virtue that Tiger linebacker Chris Jones has possessed in his time at Clemson.
In his first three seasons, speedy #57 played behind one of Clemson’s all-time greats, Anthony Simmons. Now it’s his turn to carry on the Tiger linebacker tradition.
“Anthony taught me to use my quickness and speed to make EVERY tackle,” says Jones. “He also taught me how to be smart and make good reads.”
Jones and Simmons carried their friendship in many other aspects of life. “We both stayed on campus every summer to work out and get stronger,” says Jones. “No matter what we did, on the field or off, we would do it at the highest level. We used to play pool and neither of us wanted to lose. We both got better in a lot of ways because we always pushed each other.”
But as soon as he talks about his “best buddy” he wishes people would not see him as ‘Anthony’s backup.’ “Anthony was a great player; no one knows that better than I do. But he’s not here this year. He’s playing in the NFL. I deserve the chance because of my hard work and dedication.”
Defensive coordinator and Jones’ position coach Reggie Herring also attests to Jones’ work ethic. “From day one, Chris has always been a tremendous worker, whether it be at linebacker or special teams. He’s had tough luck in that he’s had Anthony Simmons playing in front of him for three years. We had to put Chris as Anthony’s backup because we didn’t have anyone else with that type of ability. But he’s been unselfish and paid the price. We’ve always respected him for his resilience and now he’s got a chance to show what he can do.”
Jones put on quite a show in his first start against Furman on September 5 when he tied for the team lead in tackles with nine, which came in only 34 plays. He also scooped up a fumble and rolled into the endzone for his first touchdown as a Tiger.
“I saw the ball fly over the quarterback’s head and my eyes lit up,” says Jones with an uncontrollable smile. “I didn’t even know I had fell into the end zone until the cannon went off. It’s the type of feeling you really can’t describe. It was the first touchdown I had scored since high school.”
The Monroe, GA native came to Clemson after playing tailback at Monroe Area High School. He rushed for over 1,400 yards in his senior season, 329 of which came in only 15 carries against Loganville High School. In a sign of things to come, he played linebacker his last four games of his senior season. That four game stretch was the first time he had ever played the position.
Despite his impressive numbers, his only other major college offer he received was from Illinois State. Clemson, though, saw a linebacker in Jones and signed him. He arrived in the same class with many of the current Tiger starters on defense, including Simmons, Antwan Edwards, Rahim Abdullah, Adrian Dingle, and O.J. Childress.
Jones’ first season saw the rock-solid 6-0, 225 pounder make an immediate impact. In his first game as a Tiger against Western Carolina in 1995, he had seven tackles in limited playing time. He went on to accumulate 50 tackles, seventh best on the team.
His 1996 season numbers were not as good as his freshman numbers. But against Florida State, Jones had a play he will never forget, and neither will the Seminoles’ Dee Feaster, as Jones knocked him unconscious on a punt return.
“I was running down the field on the punt coverage team and was bearing down on Feaster,” recalls Jones. “I had a lot of momentum and just leaned into him. His whole body went limp and the ball came free. It’s one of those hits you dream about.”
In his junior season, he increased his tackle total to 38, including a team-best 13 special teams tackles. His 22 special teams tackles through his first three seasons ranks as one of the best Tiger figures over the three-year span.
Now that he is a starter in ’98, he has made the most of his opportunity through the first two games. His 26 tackles is eight more than the nearest Tiger. Included in that total was a 17-tackle performance against Virginia Tech, by far his career high. He has also had the 26 stops in only 94 plays, good for a tackle every 3.6 plays.
His career numbers reflect that his efficiency. Through his first three seasons and two games of ’98, he has averaged a tackle every 4.2 plays, which is slightly behind Simmons’ career mark of 4.1. He is also tied for the team lead in career games, as the senior has appeared in 35 of 36 games entering this season.
Despite his collegiate success, Jones, the youngest of seven children, had to overcome many obstacles that most people do not know about. “My mom, Christine, who I was named after, and dad, Timothy, taught us right from wrong and the value of life, ” says Jones. “My dad worked with the city of Monroe and my mom took care of me and my brothers and sisters. It was tough. I knew my parents couldn’t pay my way through college, so I had to go out and earn a scholarship.”
“Even though I never got the opportunity to do a lot of things that other kids got to do, like play recreational sports and enjoy a lot of nice things, I really don’t blame them for anything. It was really tough. I also want to thank Lester and Lillie Middlebrooks, who were family friends of mine and helped me through some tough times.”
“One thing I did in my spare time was lift weights. I had a little weight bench in my backyard.” By the looks of his biceps and the Tiger Paw tattoo on one of them, it is obvious of Jones’ desire to be the best and for his love of Clemson.
Thanks to his perseverance, Jones has made a name for himself with professional scouts, who clocked Jones 40-yard dash time at a blistering 4.40 seconds. He also benched 422 pounds, sixth best on the team.
But Jones realizes that professional football is not a guarantee. “I plan to use what I’ve learned in PRTM-CLS (community leisure services) to work with children. Through hard work and dedication, 99 times out of 100 your dreams will come true.”
Perhaps Head Coach Tommy West sums the former high school tailback’s situation up best. “He’s handled the whole situation well. He knew he was going to get some playing time and he knew how important he was on our special teams. But you sure appreciate what guys like that do. He was playing behind a great player. I’m glad to see him get his opportunity now because he’s certainly earned it!”
March 14, 2019