Summers: Jones not just another kid
By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector
Monday, November 21, 2016
A man with rare qualities walked into his final home postgame news conference wearing a T-shirt that said, “Just a kid from Austin.”
One of the many gifts of Zay Jones, who had just played his last home football game at East Carolina and become the NCAA's all-time leader in receptions in the process, is always finding ways to remain normal, even as he does the remarkable.
The T-shirt, and the guy wearing it, represent a trait seemingly reserved for the truly exceptional. After another masterful 12-catch, 212-yard, two-touchdown game, the wide receiver seemed ready to remember who he was first and what he accomplished second.
Like always, Jones' postgame words, even with the bitter taste of a 66-31 shelling from Navy fresh in his mouth, were insightful, inclusive and as humble as the T-shirt suggested.
Jones' historic season will finish on Saturday against Temple in Philadelphia, likely amid little ECU fanfare.
The few fans who showed up for the Navy game in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium were witness to a typically astounding game from Jones, whose statistics and records have become as dizzying to keep track of as he was on touchdowns of 40 and 77 yards against the Midshipmen.
Not about to miss the moment were two former ECU teammates who helped lay the foundation for Jones' success. The man he passed at the pinnacle of pass-catchers, Atlanta Falcons receiver Justin Hardy, and all-time ECU leading passer Shane Carden, now with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL, continued to be strong team ambassadors with their presence at the game.
Jones' record season happening with a team that will be hard-pressed to finish with more than three wins makes the feat even tougher to imagine.
As his numbers have progressed — Jones will go to Philly nearing the NCAA single-season mark for receptions with a nation-best 151 catches and 1,685 yards to go with his eight touchdowns — the 3-8 Pirates have regressed, losing eight of their last nine after an auspicious 2-0 start.
As much as Carden and Hardy are forever linked with Jones, the guys on the sideline Saturday got to finish their careers in a bowl game against Florida after three straight winning seasons, but Jones is forced to settle for no bowls and eight total wins to date in two final losing seasons.
There is much to fix in the post-Jones ECU era for head coach Scottie Montgomery, who next season won't have an NCAA record to help pad the fall, only the record tallied by wins and losses.
Jones has helped his one-year coach substantially by making sure there are two ECU receivers in the NCAA record book, and soon another one in the NFL, too, with which to entice much-needed recruits.
The record rampage of Jones on a three-win team shows just how much help is needed in other areas of the team, particularly its front lines.
His weekly version of amazing wasn't enough for ECU on most days this season. His legacy will not only be tough to replace, but can't even be fully calculated yet.
At the end of a day that fittingly started out bathed in sunshine, mid-70s temperatures and NCAA football records and ended in howling, stiff wind, Jones strode one last time across his debris-strewn home field like the final scene in a futuristic, end-of-days football flick.
Before the mild-mannered Texan rides off into the sunset and the credits roll, Jones will spend 60 more minutes adding to a college football legacy that stands on its own, apart from the feats of his football-star father and brothers, his teammates and his sport.
The Pirates will need a lot more than just a kid to replace him.
Contact Nathan Summers at firstname.lastname@example.org, 252-329-9595 or follow @NateSumm99.