If you’re a high school football fan in southern West Virginia, Jalen Jones is no stranger. The 2012 Register-Herald Offensive Player of the Year is one of the biggest stars on the gridiron every Friday night, and the Oak Hill senior provides plenty of headaches for opposing defensive coordinators each week.
Around the state, though, Jones has sometimes been overlooked. Although he was a first-team all-stater last year, rushing for 2,194 yards and 27 touchdowns, he wasn’t mentioned in the same breath as Kennedy Award winner Ryan Switzer of George Washington, Martinsburg quarterback Cookie Clinton or Cabell Midland running back David Gaydosz.
So when Jones made the trip to Musselman on Friday, he knew it was his big opportunity. He was playing in the Eastern Panhandle, far from the comforts of Fayette County and in front of a different group of football fans, most of whom had never seen him play.
If they didn’t leave the stadium impressed, they must have been watching the game with their eyes closed.
Against the Applemen, a Class AAA second-round playoff team a year ago, Jones ripped off 318 yards on 32 carries and scored four touchdowns. On defense, he came up with a critical interception.
“I felt like I needed to prove that I’m the real deal,” said Jones, who now has to be considered one of the favorites for the Kennedy Award, presented annually to the state’s top high school football player, after totaling 504 yards and seven rushing touchdowns through the first two games. In the season’s first week, he picked up 186 yards on just 13 carries in a win over another 2012 Class AAA playoff team, Elkins, also returning a punt for a touchdown.
“I was really excited,” said Jones of the meeting with Musselman, which included touchdown runs of 55, 54, 15 and 5 yards. “It was really tough. They were a good team, and I give them a lot of credit. I didn’t do it alone, but I got a chance to prove something to people who don’t usually get to see me play.”
Now 2-0 on the year, the Red Devils, who were a playoff team last year before falling to Cabell Midland in the opening round, have big goals for the rest of the year.
“We’re a small AAA school, but we come to play every week,” said Jones. “We have a big heart and we play hard every time we step on the field. I love this team.
“We want to go undefeated,” he added. “For me, I just want to have a healthy season.”
— E-mail: chuffman
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.
Get to know...
Favorite food: lasagna
Favorite music: Hip-hop
Favorite NFL team: Baltimore Ravens
Favorite NFL player: Ray Rice
Favorite college team: North Carolina
Dream job: Sports medicine (if football doesn’t work out)
Best football memory: Beating Musselman
Football role model: Adrian Peterson
Favorite thing coach says: “Kickers and punters get ready. Jalen, you already know, stay out there.”