By JON MOFFETT
When Donald Jones was younger, his father encouraged him to play on the defensive side of the football.
But Jones, a native of Plainfield, N.J., and wide receiver for Youngstown State, said he needed to have the ball in his hands to be happy. And Jones got to show several NFL teams exactly what he could do with the ball in his hands at a rare YSU pro day.
Jones, along with about a dozen other current and former YSU players, worked out for NFL scouts at Stambaugh Stadium on Monday. The pro day is coming off Jones’ impressive performance at the NFL Scouting Combine earlier this month.
Jones, a 6-foot, 215-pound receiver, opened a lot of eyes at the combine. Jones bench-pressed 225 pounds 20 times, tied for most at his position, and posted a 41-inch vertical jump, which was second among receivers.
But Jones was able to show off his hand skills, nabbing nearly every ball thrown to him.
“It was fun,” he said. “It’s always fun to just catch passes and not have to run the 40 [yard dash]. But it was fun even though it was cold and early outside.”
Jones opted to forgo another 40-yard dash and bench press session due to his combine performance. He noted that a performance that doesn’t mirror your combine workout can only hurt you.
In typical Northeast Ohio fashion, Jones’ pro day came with rain and sleet. But not even the elements could stop Jones from flying around the field.
“They said I looked good out there, and they said my combine workout was good, too,” he said. “I guess now they just go back and break down film and then I wait for draft day.”
Jones said he and his agent have been contacted by several teams, but declined to say which, and expects to be selected in the “mid-to-lower rounds.”
The scouts present, who represented teams including the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, declined to comment on Jones’ workout.
In addition to workouts and position-specific drills, Jones said he has been busy taking intelligence and aptitude tests and has experienced a barrage of interviews about himself, his past and his understanding of the game. He said scouts have even called his former coaches at Plainfield High to inquire about the prospect’s knowledge of the game.
Jones said he doesn’t have a specific team in mind and just hopes to land an NFL job — but he added the New York Giants were his favorite team as a boy. He said he’ll be back at home on draft day with his cell phone in hand.
Wherever he lands, Jones said he hopes to learn the nuances of the game from a veteran receiver and hopes to make a name for himself and the school.
He added that recent success stories of players from smaller schools, including Miles Austin of the Dallas Cowboys (undrafted out of Monmouth University), Marques Colston (round seven out of Hofstra University) and Pierre Gar ßon of the Indianapolis Colts (sixth round out of Mount Union College) have helped pave the way for such schools.
If drafted, Jones would be the first Penguin selected in the NFL draft since Harry Deligianis was taken 1998 draft. A defensive lineman, Deligianis was the fourth-round selection of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
According to YSU sports information director Trevor Parks, a total of 21 Penguins have been drafted. But only two have come in the past 20 years.
Possibly the most prolific Penguin to be drafted was former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, and current ESPN football analyst, Ron Jaworski, who was taken in the second round of the 1973 draft by the Los Angeles Rams.
Former Penguins and Boardman native Jeff Wilkins also enjoyed a long NFL career. Undrafted in 1994, Wilkins played for 14 seasons, 11 with the St. Louis Rams. He retired in 2008.
Exhausted by the process, which included the combine and the Senior Bowl in January, Jones said it’s been well worth the ride.
“It’s been a long trip,” he said. “But it’s been fun.”