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Football: Focus is easy for UL’s Jones

Dan McDonald
dmcdonald@theadvertiser.com

Matching up with Texas A&M makes for a big weekend for most members of the University of Louisiana football team.
But for tight end Erik Jones, it’s absolutely huge, as it would be for any long-time dyed-in-the-wool Texas Longhorn follower.

“My dad went to Texas,” Jones said, “so A&M has a lot of extra meaning for me.”

Football fans in Acadiana may not know how deep the rivalry between the Longhorns and the Aggies go. For those involved, it’s not just about football or even athletics. It’s a way of life.
The Aggies downgrade the “T-sippers.” Longhorns tell Aggie jokes. The state’s divided between those who wear maroon and those who wear burnt orange.

Jones falls on the orange side, having lived in Austin much of his life before signing with the Cajuns and coming to Lafayette in the fall of 2004.

Ironically, after a redshirt season, Jones opened his career against the Longhorns in the 2005 season opener.

“It was awesome going back to Austin to play last year,” Jones said. “And now to play their biggest rival … maybe I have a little more hatred than anybody on this team.”

Jones started 10 games at tight end for the Cajuns last year, but finished the year with only four catches for 46 yards. Historically, the tight end slot hasn’t been one that generates a lot of reception numbers in UL’s offense.

“You don’t hang your head about that,” Jones said. “You do what we need to do for us to win, and we know our time will come and our names will be called upon.”

“Our guys have to block, run short routes and some more vertical,” said tight ends coach Troy Wingerter. “The biggest thing is we have to make plays whatever we do. We’ve got to catch the tough balls on square-outs. We need to get to the stage that when Jerry (Babb) or Mike (Desormeaux) are in trouble, that they will look at us.”

That was the case last year at Middle Tennessee in UL’s biggest must-win game of the year. The Cajuns drove 71 yards for a touchdown in the final five minutes for a 13-10 win and started a five-game win streak to end the season. Jones had a clutch 16-yard catch in that drive and key blocks on two consecutive plays to set up that score.

“That felt good to be a part of that,” Jones said. “We were going through some tough times, and winning there helped our confidence a lot.”

“Erik has a lot of potential,” Wingerter said, “and more importantly he realizes that potential on a regular basis. He gets there quite a bit. What he needs to do is be more consistent, and he’s starting to do that.”

Jones has also battled shoulder problems for two years, with a nagging left shoulder injury hampering him all of last season and his right shoulder causing problems in fall camp. He has to tape and wrap both shoulders before every contact practice.

But he won’t feel much pain Saturday, with this game a bigger rivalry for him than UL’s 45-3 loss at LSU last weekend.

“We’ve got one game behind us now,” Jones said. “I think we can do a lot more with our offense. I hope so … I’ve got a lot of friends that are A&M guys.”

Originally published September 7, 2006