March 10, 2008

All grown up

It's not every day you'll hear a college football player admit to being selfish and putting his own interests ahead of those of his team.

Georgia's Rashad Jones concedes that was him.

When he signed with the Bulldogs out of Atlanta's Booker T. Washington High in Feb. of 2006, the 6-2, 203-pound free safety felt he knew it all.

Or so he thought.

Instead of contributing as a true freshman, Jones found himself redshirted, something he admits was a blow to his ego, which he now laughs used to be of considerable size.

"I thought I had everything pretty much figured out already," Jones said. "So it hurt when I found out I was going to be redshirted."

It took Jones a while to get over the pain that decision initially caused.

"It wasn't until the end of the (2006) season that I stopped being so selfish," said Jones. "I learned the pecking order. But looking back, I don't think that I was ready myself. I was just being selfish. But now that I've learned the system, and learned the packaging, I'm now able to go out and make plays."

Looking back, Jones realizes that taking a year to learn the defensive system and mature was the best thing that ever happened to him.

"I was young, but not knowing the situation," he said. "I was young. At first I didn't appreciate the redshirt year, but it helped me both physically and mentally."

There's little doubt about that.

Last year, Jones played an integral role for the Bulldogs, not only serving as the top backup to senior Kelin Johnson at free safety, but flashed the talent many said would make him an All-Conference performer in the SEC one day.

It wasn't a bad debut.

Jones collected 57 tackles for the Bulldogs including three tackles for loss and two interceptions, one coming in the regular season finale at Georgia Tech.

"Kelin was a good role model," said Jones, who started two of Georgia's 13 games. "He always worked hard and I always tried to pick up a few things from him when I could."

However, it was another former Bulldog from whom Jones drew his biggest inspiration - former safety Tra Battle.

Battle, who weighed approximately 175 pounds, certainly wasn't the biggest safety ever to play for Georgia, but what he lacked in size he certainly made up for in tenacity and grit.

"Tra always played like had nothing to lose," Jones said. "He always worked hard, made himself a great player and got himself to the next level."

Naturally, Jones has similar designs for himself.

But first, he has other aspirations, including proving to the rest of the country that Georgia's secondary is one of the country's best.

"I think we can be the No. 1 secondary in the nation," Jones said. "Of course, that's just my opinion, but with hard work I think that we can."

If Jones' prep pedigree means anything, at least the Bulldogs' free safety position appears to be in excellent hands for the next three years.

Rivals.com ranked Jones as the top player in Georgia and the nation's No. 1 safety in 2006. The Bulldogs' tradition of producing NFL-caliber safeties is what attracted him to Athens in the first place.

"I looked at who they were losing, but I also knew that Georgia always produces great players at the position," Jones said. "I always saw myself as an SEC player. I'm just glad to be getting that chance."


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