ATHENS -- Georgia sophomore Malcolm Mitchell was talking to reporters after Thursdays practice when his phone buzzed. He looked down at the name on the screen: Jarvis Jones.
Obviously a two-time All-American takes precedence over reporters, so Mitchell answered the phone.
Where you at? Ill come get you, Mitchell said into the phone. Go to the car.
Yes, Jarvis Jones -- one of the best players in college football and a candidate to be the top pick in the NFL draft -- still needs to hit up a sophomore for a ride.
Even as he became a star, Jones has maintained a humility that has endeared himself to teammates, coaches, media members and others. But part of being humble is just being comfortable and happy, and Jones gives that appearance when he talks about his future.
The general assumption is that Jones, a fourth-year junior, will declare for the NFL draft as soon as the season is over. It could even be sooner.
Jones decision might be obvious, but he doesnt sound disingenuous at all when he talks about how happy he is being a college player.
It is a tough decision, Jones said after Fridays practice. I mean Ive got a bunch of teammates, man, that look up to me and I lead every day. Ive got a family that I want to support and a mother I just want to give reward to. My nieces and my nephews. And the people back in Columbus that support me the most. And the Bulldog Nation, as well. I know they dont want to see me go.
Then Jones pointed out at the Georgia practice field.
I wish this could be my NFL career and play how long I want to in college, just to be here every day, he said. Thatll be fine. And just be around these guys all the time.
But players dont get paid in college and find themselves having to catch a ride from teammates. Jones, who overcame a tough upbringing in the Columbus area, appears to know that the riches of the NFL will be too much to pass up.
But its all about just experiencing new things and growing in life, Jones said. And thats how youve got to look at it. Im sure if I stayed things would be great. If I leave, things will be great.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper reiterated this week that Jones is his No. 1 overall prospect for the April draft. It helps that there isnt what Kiper called an elite quarterback, running back or defensive back, which allows Jones and Notre Dame senior linebacker Manti Teo to get heavy consideration.
Hes a top pass rusher, Kiper said of Jones. If the medical stuff checks out fine, hes a top-five pick, maybe the No. 1 pick overall.
The medical stuff Kiper alluded to isnt just focused on the minor injuries (groin, shoulder) that kept Jones out of two games this year. Its the neck injury that Jones suffered as a freshman at Southern California. The USC medical staff wouldnt clear him, so Jones transferred back home to Georgia, after getting cleared by the Bulldogs and outside doctors, according to the team.
NFL personnel are known to be skittish about players with injury history. But Jones can point to three seasons (including one as a scout-team player at Georgia) without any recurrence of the neck injury.
Obviously the medical parts gonna be important, Kiper said. How teams view thats gonna be important. Staying out there for that long 16-game NFL schedule is the issue. Thats the issue, thats the concern. But in terms of ability, his sack numbers, the way he gets after the quarterback, his motor, hes another guy I talked about whos very focused, (a) good kid.
Jones said there was still work to do at Georgia -- break the sack record, win a national championship.
He also wants to graduate. Jones said hes a year behind on credits because none of them from USC transferred. He was a journalism major at USC so he didnt take math or science. He switched to human development and family science at Georgia.
Theres a lot of things I want to do, he said. I want to graduate. So I have to come back another year and do that. I want to continue to play football here. And at the same time I want to play in the NFL.
At which point he will probably be able to drive himself around.