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Penn State Football: Quarterback Paul Jones Hopes To Finally Make The Grade With Nittany Lions

on March 22, 2012 6:00 AM

Paul Jones already had a five-month lead on Rob Bolden in the freshman quarterback derby when Bolden arrived on Penn State’s campus in May 2010.

The two hot-shot prospects were both rated four-star recruits by Rivals.com coming out of high school.

Jones was an early enrollee who arrived in University Park in January 2010, and he came with an impressive resume.

As a senior at McKees Rocks in suburban Pittsburgh, he was rated the No. 2 quarterback in the country by Scout.com and played in the prestigious U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

For his part, Bolden was ranked the fourth-best high school quarterback in the country by ESPN.com and the second-best dual-threat quarterback by Rivals after leading his Michigan prep high school team to two appearances in the Division 3 state championship game.

Jones was the first of the two to make an impact on the field, tossing a pair of 18-yard touchdown passes to wide receiver Shawney Kersey in the 2010 Blue-White spring game.

It turns out it was the only time Jones, now a redshirt sophomore, has ever thrown a pass in Beaver Stadium -- other than in practice or pre-game warm-ups. He redshirted as a freshman and was academically ineligible last season.

This fall will be his third at Penn State.

Meanwhile, in early September 2010, Bolden -- less than four full months after he arrived on Penn State’s campus -- beat out both Jones and Kevin Newsome, who has since transferred to Temple, for the starting quarterback job.

Bolden became the first true freshman in 100 years to start the Nittany Lions’ season-opener at quarterback. In that game against Division I-AA Youngstown State at Beaver Stadium, he showed poise in the pocket and made a number of clutch throws. Bolden completed 20-of-29 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns in a 44-14 nonconference win.

Bolden, who will be a junior this fall, has gone on to make 15 more starts for the Nittany Lions, compiling an 11-5 record in games he has started while splitting the quarterback duties with Matt McGloin.

McGloin, a fifth-year senior and former walk-on from Scranton, Pa., has a 5-5 record in 10 career starts. But his two-year stint also includes a relief appearance against Northwestern in 2010 in which he rallied the Nittany Lions from a 21-point deficit to a 35-21 victory. That gave former coach Joe Paterno his 400th career victory.

Bolden and McGloin once again are expected to battle for the starting job Monday when spring drills open under first-year coach Bill O’Brien.

Mind you, the two quarterbacks haven’t exactly put up Tom Brady-like numbers the past two years, combining for 29 touchdown passes (McGloin 22, Bolden 7) and 28 interceptions (McGloin 14, Bolden 14).

On top of that, they are 0-8 against Top 25 teams, losing four each. Numbers like that hardly guarantee either of them the starting job heading into spring drills.

That’s why Jones, at 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, figures to be part of Penn State’s quarterback mix -- if he can stay academically eligible.

At this juncture, it’s hard for O’Brien to count on Jones, whose career has been dogged by poor academics since his first semester. That’s a little hard to comprehend, considering that he was the first student to ever graduate early from his high school at Sto-Rox.

It doesn’t help, either, that Jones has had virtually two years of inactivity, barring running the foreign team in practice.

I asked O’Brien last Wednesday at Penn State’s Pro Day if Jones was academically eligible for spring practice.

“As of right now he is,” O’Brien said, smiling. “As of today, as we stand here today.”

Keep in mind that Jones was expected to be the third-string quarterback a year ago. But when academics KO’d him, Bolden regained the starting job he had lost to McGloin, Newsome left the program in early August and another walk-on, Shane McGregor, moved up the depth chart to No. 3.

Bolden, whose transfer attempt was denied by Paterno following his freshman season, started the first seven regular-season games as a sophomore a year ago, while McGloin started the final five.

But McGloin suffered a seizure and concussion in a mid-December scuffle with wide receiver Curtis Drake and missed the TicketCity Bowl matchup, as Bolden got the start under interim head coach Tom Bradley.

Bolden, who completed just 39.3 percent of his passes last season and threw only two touchdown passes, was dreadful against Houston in Dallas. He completed 7-of-26 passes for 137 yards. He also threw three interceptions and one touchdown pass in the 30-14 loss to the Cougars.

Jones did not make the trip to the Jan. 2 bowl game. Four days later, O’Brien was hired to replace Paterno, who was pushed out in November as a result of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

Since O’Brien took over, high school senior quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg, a four-star prospect, has de-committed from Penn State and signed with Florida, but the Nittany Lions regrouped quickly and signed Georgia three-star quarterback Steven Bench, who will arrive on campus this summer.

O’Brien also has openly courted former Maryland quarterback Danny O’Brien (no relation), who visited campus this past weekend as part of his national transfer tour. He was a two-year starter for the Terrapins and has two years of eligibility remaining.

Penn State already has a verbal commitment from Virginia four-star quarterback Christian Hackenberg for its 2013 recruiting class.

For now, at least, we know Bolden and McGloin will be taking snaps under center this spring. Jones also hopes to finally earn a passing grade on the field.

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