|Photo: Kevin McGuire, Paul Jones is now #7|
Paul Jones walked into his apartment, headed to his room and fell lifelessly onto the bed. His bag, thrown on the floor surrounded by mangled laundry, crumpled papers and empty Gatorade bottles. Practice ran late and he knew he had to wake up for a 7 a.m. workout the next morning, but couldn’t resist to get a few rounds of NBA 2K12 in on his Play Station 3 with his roommates.
What looks like a shrine of disorganization and carelessness is disrupted by the wall of class syllabi hung up alongside the bed, each one highlighted hot pink with check marks next to each assignment.
For the past four semesters, Jones struggled academically, not because he was dumb, but because he was lazy. He had no motivation, no drive. It wasn’t until the Nittany Lions flew out to Texas for the TicketCity Bowl did Jones have a revelation.
Because his cumulative GPA did not meet Penn State’s academic eligibility requirement, Jones was not allowed to travel with the team to Dallas to take on the Houston Cougars. He had high hopes during the weeks leading up to the bowl game that his grades from the fall semester would bump his overall GPA above a 2.0, but he fell short with a cumulative grade point average of 1.92.
His time spent home in Pittsburgh over winter break is when he made the decision to change. “Being home and living for a whole month with my family, watching them struggle,” Jones said shaking his head. “That’s when I realized what I had to do.”
Jones sat silent for a few seconds then looked at the picture of him and his sister on his desk. “Knowing I could use my skills and talent and Penn State education to better my family situation and be a better role model for my four little brothers and baby sister to look up to,” he said, “that was my motivation.”
Since the spring semester began, Jones has hustled to get his grades up and be successful both on and off the field. Jones’ girlfriend, Erin Mitchell, a first-year grad student studying communication sciences and disorders said she noticed a change in him right away. “He used to always ask professors for extensions,” Mitchell said. “Not because he didn’t have the time to do it, he just didn’t like doing work.” She looked up at the syllabi on his wall and smiled. “He hands all of his assignments in on time now.”
While Jones has a huge support system of family, teammates, tutors and of course, his girlfriend, he finds working alone to be the most beneficial. “I used to help him out with his homework, but I don’t anymore, “ said Mitchell. Jones laughed. “That’s where I went wrong,” he joked. “I had her help me!”
Now, Jones sits in the private study rooms at the football building for hours and doesn’t leave until his work is done. “He’s definitely [in Lasch] working a lot and I know because I’m in there a lot,” said Donovan Smith, a freshman tackle and one of Jones’ three roommates. “I’ve definitely noticed a difference with him. He’s more focused, more organized,” Smith laughed. “He’s always been confident though, I mean it is PJ we are talking about.”
That confidence will be key in determining the fate of Paul Jones over the next few months. During spring practices, coach Bill O’Brien reminds him of this. “Take control Jones, be confident!” And Jones has done just that; he’s taken control of his situation and raised his cumulative GPA above a 2.0, making him eligible to play in the 2012 season.
Now that Jones has his grades back on track, his motivation is focused towards becoming a better athlete, more specifically a better quarterback. Jones has no doubt he can beat out teammates Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin for the starting quarterback position. He just needs the opportunity to prove it. Now that he’s been given that opportunity, he is taking full advantage of it.
Senior quarterback Shane McGregor said he has been extremely impressed with Jones so far this spring. “I always knew he had great athletic ability,” McGregor said. “Seriously, I think he has the strongest arm I’ve ever seen in my life.”
McGregor believes that Jones has what it takes to be a quality athlete and said it has been “cool” to watch him transform and mature into a smart quarterback. “He has everything down, and when you have something down in one chapter of your life you have it down in other aspects too and I think that helped him boost his grades.”
Smith agreed that Jones’ enhanced performance on the field directly correlates with his academic performance in the classroom. “It’s definitely more of a relief now that he can focus more on football and performing for the coaches and not have to worry so much about school and his grades,” said Smith. “He’s learned a lot from this.”
Perhaps the greatest lesson Jones learned came from his current recreational parks and tour management professor, Patricia Kleban. “Patty always says once you start pretending to do something it becomes a part of your character and you become it,” Jones said. “So I pretended to be a better student and I became one and now have the grades and the will to succeed.”
He turned off his video game, set his alarm, and kissed his girlfriend goodnight. “I’ll see you tomorrow night,” he said. “I’ve got homework to do first.”
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