Penn State Football: Paul Jones Fighting Through Academic Issues to Make Run at Starting Quarterback Job
Jason Ruscitto knows a side of Paul Jones few have seen.
Here is Jones, a man reduced to two words to sum up his career at Penn State thus far — academically ineligible — a man who enrolled early as one of the top high school quarterback prospects in the country only to be relegated to the practice squad.
Then there’s the man his old high school coach sees, the man who used to march his 4-year-old autistic son Roman around on his shoulder tops calling him “Rome-Dog” with a big smile on his face.
And when he dropped him to the floor, Roman would look up at the bullish, brawn Jones, amazed a talent like that would have any time for him.
“He’s anticipating Paul one day being on TV,” Ruscitto said by phone Tuesday. “He loves Paul.”
Now 9, Roman may have that chance come fall. Jones, a redshirt sophomore who has overcome academic struggles, is one of three quarterbacks vying for the starting job at Penn State under first-year coach Bill O’Brien.
Jones, for the first time since perhaps the spring of his true freshman season in 2010, has a legitimate chance to win the starting job. He’s splitting first-team reps with fifth-year senior Matt McGloin and junior Rob Bolden, and reports out of practice are that Jones is impressing early with his arm strength and mechanics.
“He’s just relieved about having the opportunity for competing for the job,” Ruscitto said. “When you’re on the shelf academically, regardless of who’s coaching, you have no opportunity to compete.
“If he was down, he did not let people know he was down. He kept his nose in the books.”
Jones missed all of last year because he was academically ineligible. For as long as it seems Jones has been around the program, Ruscitto reminds you he only turns 20 next month, and he enrolled early at Penn State at just 17.
The adjustment would be difficult for any student, let alone one competing at quarterback and participating in spring practice.
“Paul was academically in good standing,” Ruscitto said about his high school days. “Paul was able to get an offer from Stanford. Stanford is a pretty good school. I think he’ll be fine.”
More importantly, O’Brien thinks he’ll be fine, too. Or at least he hopes. Because he’s repping Jones as if he’ll be able to start the Sept. 1 season opener against Ohio.
“He’s doing well in school,” O’Brien said at the onset of spring practice March 26. “He's really working hard right now. Obviously the final grades aren't out right now, but just the updates that I've been getting from our academic staff, it seems to me that Paul has turned a corner academically, and so hopefully he finishes strong and he'll be ready to go for next year.”
O’Brien has said he plans to incorporate several base concepts from the New England Patriots offense into his own. The quarterback, of course, is responsible for running the show, and that’s why there’s some perception Jones, because of his struggles academically, may not be able to grasp the playbook or intricacies of the offense.
One way to quash that line of thinking is, say, going out and winning the job. With a new offensive coaching staff and revamped offense, it’s there for the taking, as up for grabs as it was two years ago when Jones first set foot on campus.
And despite all his hardships, all the time spent running the practice squad, he hasn’t gone anywhere.
“He never looked around or never asked to shop him around,” Ruscitto said. “He knew he was staying at Penn State and had to work through some struggles.”