ATHENS -- More than a year later, Ben Jones remembers the play and can still describe it in detail. He knows it wasnt his best moment. His coaches say he shouldnt be judged by it.
It came in the waning moments of last years Georgia-Mississippi State game. Georgia was on its way to a bad loss and was frustrated. Jones was frustrated.
On a pass downfield Jones, the Georgia center, ran up behind Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, with whom hed been battling all game. Jones dove at Cox, hitting him with his helmet on Coxs side.
All I had to do was get my head six inches in front of him, and it wouldve been legal, Jones said.
The clip made Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen irate. The SEC ended up suspending Jones for the first half of Georgias next game, at Colorado.
Jones and Cox will face off again Saturday, this time in Athens. Jones could take the chance to apologize, although he already did. He said he wrote Cox a letter as soon as the game was over and sent it.
I felt bad when I got home, Jones said this week. I thought, Man, thats wrong. If that had happened to one of my players I wouldve been hot. But I apologized, wrote the letter to him and sent it the next day and hopefully thats gone, and this is a new year.
Jones said he never heard back from Cox, who is now a junior. Cox declined an interview request with Mississippi media this week, and Mullen said he had no idea whether Cox received the letter.
Thats probably the end of it, Mullen said this week. It was a heat-of-the-moment deal, so I dont think there will be anything to that.
Jones also downplayed the return.
Hes a great player, and just cant wait for the challenge this week against him, he said.
Jones is known as a hard-nosed player, but his position coach said Jones plays the right way, and doesnt push the envelope.
Ben plays hard. Not one time, before I was here when I followed Georgia and watched Georgia, not one time did I think Ben was anything (like) a dirty player, said Friend, who spent the previous few years in the same position at UAB. Ben plays like youre supposed to play and gets after it. And hes just playing hard, and thats all it is to Ben. And you want everyone on your field playing as hard as Ben does.
The Mississippi State loss was one of the low points of a low 2010 season for Jones and Georgia. Afterwards, he briefly considered the NFL draft, with the likes of ESPNs Mel Kiper including him on their draft boards.
Jones said he filled out papers to get an advisory from the NFL draft board. But he came in later that afternoon and gave them right back.
I didnt want to leave Georgia with that taste in my mouth, Jones said. I said hey, weve got things to change.
Jones continues to do his part at center, and could end up shifting to guard or even tackle if injuries call for it on Georgias depleted line. Friend proclaimed, only half-jokingly, that Jones could play anywhere except quarterback and tailback.
In fact, the past few Thursdays the coaches have let Jones try field goals. Not as an emergency kicker, but just for the fun of it.
Hes 2-for-2, according to Friend.
Theyve cleared five foot and theyve been line drives, Friend said, smiling. The last one skipped over. But in his mind it was a good kick.