By BEN JOHNSON
Vernon Jones says he is due for a haircut. However, when he trims up the dark fuzz atop his head is up to him and his teammates.
“I don’t plan on cutting my hair until we win the first game,” the Northeastern State cornerback said. “That’s why it’s growing.”
Still far from an overgrown afro, Jones’ hair will have to at least wait until early September to be scaled down. But, he vows to avoid the clippers until NSU cracks the win column.
“I know it looks funny right now,” said Jones, who, along with the rest of the Riverhawks, will open up the 2013 campaign at Pittsburg State on Sept. 7.
“Everyone keeps telling me I need to cut it, but...”
Those plans on are hold.
First up on Jones’ to-do list is get back into shape after sitting out spring practice.
“I missed out on the running,” Jones said. “Now I’m just trying to work on my conditioning.”
The Jacksonville, Fla., native was forced into a sabbatical during the spring months because he lost a semester of athletic eligibility by playing basketball for one year in junior college at New Mexico Military Institute. And in order to play for the RiverHawks in 2013, Jones had to sit idly by while his teammates laced up and put the pads on in March and April.
“I hate watching,” said Jones, who is 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds. “That’s like playing on the bench. So I just had to get back into football mode, that’s about it.”
That wasn’t much of a problem for Jones. He’s well-versed in college football by now.
During his junior season, Jones recorded five interceptions for the RiverHawks, which landed him in a tie for third in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association category.
“As far as a coverage-type person, Vernon is probably the best in the MIAA,” NSU head coach Kenny Evans said. “He ended up as one of the leading guys, in terms of picking off balls. He probably had his hands on more balls that he could have picked off, too.”
Teaming up with Victor Johnson, Marquin Watts and Kyler Harris, Jones will be an integral part of a senior-laden secondary in 2014. It’s a unit that could allow NSU to mix things up elsewhere.
“How they all play in the secondary,” Evans said, “could allow us to get creative up front with a younger, less-experienced group.”
And when it comes to pass coverage, Evans knows he’s not going to have to worry about Jones’ proximity to his targeted wide receiver.
“He is always in the right position,” Evans said of Jones, who also ended up with 26 tackles, four tackles for loss, one sack and five pass break-ups last season.
“Vernon has great foot work and his coverage ability sets him apart from others.”
In addition to playing at “a thankless position, much like an offensive lineman,” as Evans put it, Jones will serve as the RiverHawks’ punt returner again in 2013. His return game is one area where he felt like he needed to get better prior to his senior year.
“I need to get a punt return for a touchdown,” Jones said. “Other than that, I just need to get stronger and faster.”
If he does, he can plan on cutting his curls sooner rather than later.