ATHENS -- More than a year later, Ben Jones remembers the play and can still describe it in detail. He knows it wasn’t his best moment. His coaches say he shouldn’t be judged by it.
It came in the waning moments of last year’s 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 he’d been battling all game. Jones dove at Cox, hitting him with his helmet on Cox’s side.
“All I had to do was get my head six inches in front of him, and it would’ve 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 Georgia’s 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, that’s wrong.’ If that had happened to one of my players I would’ve been hot. But I apologized, wrote the letter to him and sent it the next day and hopefully that’s 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.
“That’s probably the end of it,” Mullen said this week. “It was a heat-of-the-moment deal, so I don’t think there will be anything to that.”
Jones also downplayed the return.
“He’s a great player, and just can’t 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 doesn’t 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 you’re supposed to play and gets after it. And he’s just playing hard, and that’s 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 ESPN’s 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 didn’t want to leave Georgia with that taste in my mouth,” Jones said. “I said hey, we’ve 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 Georgia’s 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.
He’s 2-for-2, according to Friend.
“They’ve cleared five foot and they’ve been line drives,” Friend said, smiling. “The last one skipped over. But in his mind it was a good kick.”