Notre Dame graduate student nose guard Jarron Jones blew up Miami’s offensive line last weekend, clobbering the ‘Canes for six tackles for a loss in his team’s 30-27 win. It wasn’t just the best game of Jones’ career, but it was arguably the best game a defensive lineman has played in all of college football this year (Jones’ six tackles for a loss are an FBS single-game season high for 2016).
But what Jones did after the game might’ve been more special. He was awarded the game ball by coach Brian Kelly, and promptly gave it to his parents, Kiescha and Matthew, as a gift for their 17th wedding anniversary. Needless to say, it was the best anniversary gift they’ve received.
“Oh yeah,” Kiescha said. “Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Yes. By far.
“Normally, we don’t make big deals (about our anniversary),” the proud Notre Dame mom added. “Normally it’s between the two of us, we celebrate, and the kids are happy. (We’ve been together) 30 years, 17 married. This whole weekend was just wonderful.”
The 6-foot-5, 315 pound defensive lineman is trending toward leaving Notre Dame playing his best football. Two weeks before his mammoth showing against Miami, Jarron recorded a sack, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble — all in one play — against Stanford. He’s already set a Notre Dame record with six blocked kicks, including two PATs that were returned for two-point scores this year.
Kiescha pointed out that Jarron holds a record at his old high school — Aquinas Institute in Rochester, N.Y. — for the most rebounds in a basketball game with 33. And that’s part of why his knack for blocking kicks makes sense.
“He jumps,” Kiescha said. “That’s what he does.”
Jarron has matured through two grueling rehab processes from a Lisfranc (foot) sprain that ended his 2014 season and a torn MCL suffered last August that sidelined him for the entire 2015 regular season. He worked his way back to appear in the Fiesta Bowl last New Year’s Day, but was dealing with a stress fracture in his foot then, too, that limited him during spring practice earlier this year.
“I think that he really did a good job of coming back from the injury, but I don't know that that ever really left his mind until some time this year,” coach Brian Kelly said. “He still favored it a little bit even during camp. I think when he really put that behind him is when he really started to accelerate his game.”
Kelly has made the point to Jarron over the last few weeks that, hey, NFL scouts are starting to take notice of your play and that continued success will help him find a place at the next level. Jarron graduated from Notre Dame in May and has shown flashes — like against Miami last week or Florida State in 2014 — of being a bullying, difficult-to-block defensive lineman.
“Here's a guy that's completed his degree and obviously has achieved a lot, but knows that there's more for him out there and I'm sure he wants to continue to play at the next level and he's got to show a consistency,” Kelly said. “That's been our conversation with him.
“So flipping a switch I think is one way to think about it. But I think more than anything else it's the consistency that he's lacked that he's bringing to his preparation. A lot more focused in the way he comes to practice. He's not, at times, I thought that silly and a bit immature. He's much more mature and professional in the way he's coming to handle his work and his preparation.”
As Jarron’s college career nears its end, his younger brother, Jamir, is just beginning his. Kiescha figured Jamir, a three-star recruit, would redshirt this fall. But Jarron said before Jamir got to campus that, if he was going to return for a fifth year, he wanted Jamir to work his way on the depth chart and play on the same team as him. That’s happened this year, with Jamir backing up James Onwualu at Sam (outside) linebacker and getting work on a few special teams units.
“All of it’s just a blessing,” Kiescha said. “I post on Facebook a lot, it’s the reality of the dream. That’s what it feels like.”