UConn's Jones still proving himself despite rising draft stock

Published on Thursday, 24 March 2022 19:40

Journal Inquirer

STORRS - Travis Jones came to UConn four years ago as a 366-pound football player hoping to prove himself on the college level.

Now that he’s a 327-pound football player on the verge of an NFL career, his attitude hasn’t changed.

“I feel like I’ve always got something to prove,” Jones said Wednesday at UConn’s pro day. “Every day I have that mindset to go out there and get better.”

The 6-foot-5 nose guard certainly has improved, to the point where ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has projected Jones to be a late first-round pick.

But for all the hard work it has taken, Jones, a soft-spoken mountain of a man, is not surprised that he has reached this point.

“I always thought I was going to make it, make it to the NFL,” Jones said. “Because I knew with the work ethic I’ve got and the work I put in, it would be possible.”

The possibility of Jones being a high draft pick were boosted greatly by his performance in two cities this season: Clemson, South Carolina, and Mobile, Alabama. Jones’ feats against Clemson Nov. 13 and during the Senior Bowl in February wowed many observers.

“In that (Clemson) game I had the same mindset I have every game, go out there and dominate. I was just a little more consistent in that game,” said Jones, who had three tackles against the Tigers despite what he admitted were several double teams. “Going down there it was fun playing down at a big, Power 5 school in front of a lot of people.”

After the season, when given a chance at the Senior Bowl to compete against others from around the country, Jones more than held his own. He was one of the surprise stars of the event.

“At the Senior Bowl I felt like I did a pretty good job. I always feel like I could have done something better, though,” Jones said. “But it was a fun experience to go down there.”

Former UConn interim coach Lou Spanos, now the Huskies’ defensive coordinator, expects big things from Jones.

“He has all the measurables,” said Spanos, who coached on the defensive side of the ball with the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers from 1995-2009, “the length, the speed, the ability.”

Most of Jones’ work to show off those skills was done before Wednesday, though he tried to pad his resume at pro day anyway.

Representatives from all 32 NFL teams were on hand at the Shenkman Center on the UConn campus to evaluate Jones as well as a dozen other players - nine from UConn as well as a pair from Sacred Heart, one from Central Connecticut, and Glastonbury High alum Keyion Dixon, a former UConn wide receiver who transferred to Eastern Kentucky.

Nearly all of the players were tested in the bench press, 40-yard dash, vertical leap, broad jump, shuttle, and 3-cone drill by the assembled scouts. Jones, however, had performed each at the NFL Draft Combine and had significantly impressed, so he eschewed a repeat performance. His 4.92 time in the 40-yard dash and 9-foot-2 broad jump at 325 pounds certainly opened some eyebrows.

On Wednesday Jones did work out for scouts as Kenyon Jackson, the assistant defensive line coach for the Houston Texans, guided Jones through some position drills.

“I just went through some basic drills and tried to compete,” Jones said.

Jones’ plan is to keep up the same mindset when he becomes a pro, which is what he’s been telling NFL personnel when asked what he might bring to a team.

“I’d say I bring somebody that comes every day, works hard, helps the team win any way possible,” Jones said.

And, in Jones’ case, representing his hometown and his college as an example to future players hoping to prove themselves is also something he hopes to do every day.

“That would be big for me if I make to the league and have New Haven on my back,” Jones said. “Having little kids look up to me, yeah, that would be important to me.”

Until the draft, which will be April 28-30 in Las Vegas, Jones plans to spend time in New Jersey training with another former UConn defensive tackle, Foley Fatukasi of the New York Jets.

As it has been on Jones’ world for some time, these days it’s all football, all the time.

“I don’t do a lot outside of football,” Jones said with a laugh. “Just chill at home, hang out with some of the guys.”

Despite UConn’s woeful lack of success on the field in recent years - the Huskies have won seven games total in the last four seasons of play - the program has produced some solid NFL players of late.

Safety Obi Melifonwu was a second-round pick in 2017, Fatukasi was a sixth-round pick in 2018, and offensive tackle Matt Peart was a third-round choice in 2019.

Plus, cornerback Byron Jones of the Miami Dolphins has become one of the better players at his position in the league.

Posted in The Bristol Press, UConn on Thursday, 24 March 2022 19:40. Updated: Thursday, 24 March 2022 19:43.