With a year left to play for reigning National Champions, All-America running back knows it’s “hard leaving my guys who I call my family”
Eastern Washington University All-America running back Taiwan Jones will leave a year early and has officially declared for the 2011 National Football League Draft, the junior from Antioch, Calif., has announced. The deadline for draft-eligible collegiate underclassmen to declare for the April 28-30 draft is today (Jan. 15).
Jones is currently out of town, but intends to return next week for celebrations honoring Eastern for winning the NCAA Division I Championship on Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas. The first celebration will take place Friday, Jan. 21 at 6 p.m. at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash., followed by a celebration the next day at noon at River Park Square in Spokane.
“It’s hard leaving my guys who I call my family – my teammates – because that’s what they are to me,” he explained. “It’s kind of bittersweet. It’s hard to depart, but at the same time I’m stepping into a job I love.”
Jones is being represented by Seattle-based sports attorney Cameron Foster, president of Foster & Easley Sports Management Group. Foster has represented other EWU players including Michael Roos, a second-round draft choice by Tennessee in 2005, and Tom Ackerman, a fifth-round pick by the New Orleans Saints in 1995.
“We are excited to be working with Taiwan,” said Foster. “He is one of those special players that come along just every once in awhile."
Jones said he submitted information to the NFL Draft Advisory Committee by a Dec. 15 deadline in order to get a projection of where he might be drafted. The response he received was second or third round, and that helped in his decision to declare for the draft by the Jan. 15 deadline. But it wasn’t the only response that mattered.
“Even with the positive response I received, my decision was still hard for me to make,” Jones said. “My biggest concern was that I felt like I was letting my teammates down by leaving early. But they gave me a lot of support in making this decision and I appreciate that.”
Although unable to play in EWU’s last 2 1/2 games of the season because of a foot injury, Jones led the team to a 13-2 record and the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision title. He rushed for 1,742 yards and 14 touchdowns in 12 games in 2010, and averaged 7.9 yards per carry in his 24-game career as a running back.
“I felt like I made the best decision as far as being able to help my family and do something I’ve always dreamed of,” said Jones. “I get to do something that I love.”
“We want Taiwan to do what is best for him, his family and his situation,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “We wish nothing but the very best for him. On behalf of our program and our coaching staff, we thank him immensely for what he’s done for our program and university. Not only is he an amazing player, but he’s a great person and teammate.”
Jones, who ranked second in FCS in both rushing yards (145.2 per game) and all-purpose yards (201.8), suffered a fracture to the base of his fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot in EWU's 38-31 overtime victory over North Dakota State Dec. 11 in the quarterfinals. He finished with a career-high 230 yards rushing in that game, including 203 yards and a touchdown in the first half, but wasn’t able to play again.
Wanting to lead the Eagles back to Frisco next year made his NFL decision that much more difficult.
“When I was at the national championship (game), that was something I dreamed of as well,” Jones said. “It was a hard decision to make because I wanted to play on a stage like that.”
Interestingly, the type of fracture he suffered is generally referred to as a "Jones Fracture," named after Sir Robert Jones, who first described this fracture pattern in 1902.
Depending on the progress of his injury, Jones hopes to participate in the NFL Combine in late February, as well as his “pro day” in March.
“It’s definitely gone by fast,” said Jones, who graduated in 2007 from Deer Valley High School in Antioch. “When I came into this season, I wasn’t thinking that it would be my last year. I thought about it a lot and I just thought this was the best for me to be able to support my family.”
Jones is believed to be the first Eastern player to declare himself eligible for the NFL Draft before exhausting his Eastern eligibility. In 2007, current Detroit Piston Rodney Stuckey left Eastern following his junior season on the EWU basketball team and was a first-round draft choice and the 15th pick overall.
Eastern’s highest NFL draft choice ever is Roos, who was picked 41st overall in 2005. He and his wife Katherine donated $500,000 toward the red Sprinturf surface on which Jones and the Eagles played during the 2010 season. Eastern was a perfect 8-0 at Roos Field (formerly Woodward Field) in Cheney, Wash., including three games in the FCS Playoffs.
“Our disappointment is that we don’t get him for another year,” added Baldwin. “We absolutely respect his decision and will be pulling for him to make it at the next level.”
MORE ON TAIWAN JONES . . .
Junior running back Taiwan Jones was named to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision All-America first teams as selected by the American Football Coaches Association and Associated Press, and was the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year. In addition, Jones was selected on Dec. 22 as the FCS Offensive Player of the Year by Phil Steele Publications, and was a first team All-America selections by that publication.
He finished the 2010 season with 1,742 yards to rank as the third-best performance in school history, ahead of the 1,216 he had in 2010. He recorded the 15th 1,000-yard rushing performance in school history in 2010, including 11 in the last 16 seasons (1995-2010).
He finished with an average of 145.2 yards per game to rank second in the NCAA Championship Subdivision. After leading the nation in all-purpose yards per game for several weeks early in the year, Jones finished second with an average of 201.8 yards (rushing, receiving, returns) per game. He was also 13th in scoring (8.50 per game with 17 total touchdowns).
Jones, who averaged an impressive 7.5 yards per carry as a sophomore, was named to the initial 2010 Walter Payton Award Watch List by The Sports Network and was on the voting list. He lived up to that billing in 2010 with an average of 7.9 yards per rush to lead FCS (among the top 45 rushers averaging at least 75 yards per game), giving him a 7.7 average per rush in his career.
Jones is only the 12th Eagle to rush for over 2,000 yards in his career, and is fifth with 2,955. He also has a career average of 162.0 all-purpose yards per game to rank as the school record, 37 total touchdowns to rank third, his total of 5,021 all-purpose yards are second, his 1,134 kickoff return yards are sixth and he ranks fourth in points scored with 222.
He had five plays in his career of at least 80 yards, 10 of 70 or more, 16 of at least 60, 21 of at least 50 and 36 of at least 32 yards. He had a school-record 96-yard touchdown run versus Idaho State in 2009. Twelve times in his career he eclipsed the 200-yard mark in all-purpose yards and has 15 rushing performances of at least 100 yards.
"He's just one of those players that can break it at any time, and that makes it tough on a defense," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. "He's a playmaker and you better know where he is on every single snap. And even then, he's hard to stop."
Jones ended his career with a string of seven-straight 100-yard rushing performances, with a total of 1,176 yards (168.0 per game), an 8.5 average per rush and 11 touchdowns in those seven games. He had 15 100-yard rushing performances in 24 career games as a running back, and nine in the 2009 season. A foot injury kept him out of Eastern's last two games, a 41-31 victory over Villanova in the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs and a 20-19 victory over Delaware in the title game.
He had a career-high 230 rushing yards in EWU's 38-31 overtime victory over North Dakota State, with 138 of those coming on his first four carries of the game as EWU jumped out to a 14-0 lead. He had 203 yards in the first half alone. Jones had a 63-yard run on his first carry to set-up a 1-yard TD pass, then Jones had a 69-yard run to give EWU a 14-0 lead less than six minutes into the game. Those two runs gave Jones 16 plays in his career of 60 yards or longer.
In a 37-17 win over Southeast Missouri State in the FCS Playoffs, Jones rushed for 131 of his 168 yards (now fifth-best in his career) in the first half, including a 56-yard touchdown run. He also had a 1-yard TD run to open the game's scoring.
After rushing for 455 yards in his first three games, injuries limited him to 111 in the next two games he played (in addition to one game missed).
"He went through a stretch where he didn't play a ton, but since that stretch of time he's found a way to get better and better," said Baldwin before the playoffs began. "He's done a great job of taking care of his body and doing the right things to put him in this position. From the standpoint of how healthy he is right now, he's in a lot better position than where he was last year at this time."
Prior to ending the regular season with 108 yards versus Idaho State, Jones scored on a 62-yard run on Eastern's first offensive play of the game, and finished with 158 yards in Eastern's 31-24 win over Southern Utah on Nov. 13. The 62-yard run by Jones on EWU's first offensive play of the game was more than double the longest rush Southern Utah had allowed all season (27 yards).
Jones rushed for 196 of his 199 yards in the first half in EWU's easy 50-17 win at Portland State on Oct. 30. The Eagles led 28-10 at halftime as Jones had a 71-yard TD and then added a 65-yarder a few minutes later as he averaged 15.3 yards on 13 carries in the first half. Coupled with three receptions for 62 yards, he had 261 yards of all-purpose yards on just 17 touches (15.4 yards per touch). At the time, his 199 rushing yards were the second-best performance of his career (now third), ranking only behind the 221 he had earlier this season against Montana (now second). Besides earning Big Sky Conference Player of the Week accolades for the third time this season and fourth time in his career, Jones was also recognized as the FCS national running back of the week by College Football Performance Awards.
Jones rushed for 145 yards in Eastern's 28-24 win over Sacramento State on Oct. 23, including a 77-yard touchdown run in which he broke five tackles on his way to his 10th career play of at least 70 yards. After ailing for nearly a month with a painful pelvic contusion, Jones returned to form a week earlier in EWU's 35-28 victory over Northern Colorado on Oct. 16 by rushing for 168 yards and three touchdowns in the narrow win. He had nearly half of his yards on a 73-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. He had a 15-yard run followed by a 24-yard TD scamper on EWU's game-winning, two-play, 39-yard drive with 41 seconds left to play. He also added a 1-yard TD run in the second quarter. As an Eastern cornerback as a freshman in 2008, Jones returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown versus Northern Colorado in Greeley.
Jones earned Big Sky Conference and national accolades for his career-high 221-yard rushing performance in Eastern's 36-27 victory over Montana Sept. 18 in the inaugural game on EWU's new red synthetic Sprinturf surface at Roos Field (formerly Woodward Field). Jones was honored nationally as one of five College Sporting News All-Stars for the week, and was also the FCS performer of the week at running back by College Football Performance Awards. In addition, he earned Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors for the third time in his career and second time this season, having also won the award following EWU's game at Nevada on Sept. 2.
His total of 305 all-purpose yards against the Grizzlies (second-most in his career behind the 322 against Nevada) was his ninth career performance of at least 200 yards. His 27 carries were also a career high by nine as Eastern finished with 503 yards of total offense. Jones scored on a 72-yard run in the second quarter and also had a 45-yard pass reception. But perhaps the biggest run of the day for Jones was a 13-yard run during Eastern's final scoring drive, including a brilliant spin move that got him the extra yards needed for an important first down. It was on a third-and-10 play, and was just Eastern's second third down conversion of the day in 14 attempts -- including a string of nine-straight misses to start the game. Jones accounted for 35 of the 56 yards on that 12-play drive.
He added 235 yards and three touchdowns against Central Washington on Sept. 11. He finished the game with 14 rushes for 89 yards and two touchdowns, caught four passes for 63 yards (including a 46-yard score) and had 83 yards in returns.
En route to earning Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors, Jones had a career-high 322 all-purpose yards (rushing, receiving and returns) in Eastern's season-opening 49-24 loss at Nevada on Sept. 2. His performance included an 82-yard touchdown reception and a non-scoring 74-yard run. Jones rushed 12 times for 145 yards, had another 92 yards on two receptions and 85 yards on four kickoff returns. His previous career high was 279 yards against Sacramento State on Sept. 26, 2009. Jones also received honorable mention nationally by College Football Performance Awards and was the team's offensive player of the week after the Nevada game.
"It's almost to a point where I'm not surprised, but he made a few more plays against Nevada that make you marvel at how he can make plays," praised Baldwin following the Nevada game. "Even when things aren't there he is able to make them. He has a toughness and grit to him -- he bangs it up in there so he's not just a fast guy. He's a special football player and obviously the big-play guy in our offense."
A cornerback as a freshman at Eastern in 2008, Jones scored on an 87-yard run on his first carry as an Eagle running back in 2009. Jones started and ended his season with a 100-yard game, finishing with a total of six for the season to earn first team All-Big Sky Conference honors. He was a third team selection on The Sports Network's FCS All-America Football Team, and was a third team choice as an all-purpose back on the Associated Press All-America squad.
Jones, who is from Antioch, Calif., and graduated from Deer Valley High School in 2007, finished with 1,213 rushing yards in 2009 to rank as the sixth-most in school history. He ranked in the top 10 in FCS in rushing (ninth, 101.1 per game), scoring (sixth, 9.50 per game) and all-purpose yards per game (second, 195.4). His 2,345 all-purpose yards (rushing, receiving, returns) were the second-most in school history, and his 19 touchdowns and 114 total points both rank fourth.
His talent was augmented by the addition of a synthetic turf surface at Roos Field. Jones averaged 6.1 yards per carry at home on the grass surface of Roos Field (formerly Woodward Field) in 2008, but that was boosted to 8.2 in EWU's other eight games on fields that featured seven artificial surfaces as well as one grass field at Sacramento State with excellent footing.