Ever consistent, Terps' Jones blocks any obstacles out of his NFL path

December 13, 1990|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Evening Sun Staff

SHERVEPORT, LA. — SHREVEPORT, La. -- If there has been a single constant on the field in Maryland football the last four years, it is Clarence Jones.

He toils in the anonymity of the offensive line, and having said that about a man there usually is not much else to say. He blocks, or he doesn't block, and the only one who pays a lot of attention is the quarterback, because he may have to run for his life.

"When I drop back to pass, I don't worry about looking his way," said Scott Zolak, Maryland's quarterback. "I know the defender will be picked up. Clarence is reliable."

In the case of Clarence Jones, offensive tackle, there is a lot more to say. When the Terps face Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl Saturday, Jones will end his Maryland career by starting his 42nd consecutive game.

Nothing has kept him out of the lineup. Jones has been a starter since the third game of 1987, when he was a redshirt freshman.

"He's the best overall lineman we've had since I've been here," said junior center Mitch Suplee. "He's an excellent pass blocker, and runs so well for his size, it's unbelievable."

At 6 feet 6 and 277 pounds, Jones looks as if he had been sculpted from Italian marble. NFL scouts are more interested in him than any other Maryland senior, although they also express interest in Zolak and the other offensive tackle, O'Neil Glenn.

"Clarence is our best pro prospect, no doubt about it," coach Joe Krivak said. "He's been consistent for three years, playing almost every snap. The pro guys have been tracking him all that time, coming in on Thursdays and Fridays to watch films and practices.

"He meets all their physical tests and has great mass, or size. The NFL is looking for pass protectors, and he has to work on that."

Jones has been invited to play in three postseason games after the Independence Bowl -- the Blue-Gray, the All-America Classic and the East-West Shrine. He may limit it to one, perhaps the Blue-Gray Christmas Day in Montgomery, Ala.

"He's on target to graduate this spring and three bowl games would cause him to miss a lot of classes," Krivak said.

"I'll see how I feel after Saturday's game," Jones said. "I do hope to graduate."

Jones came to Maryland from Central Islip High in New York, the same school that produced John and Mike Tice, both of whom became tight ends in the NFL.

"If anything, the fact the Tices came to Maryland was a negative, because I wanted to blaze my own trail," Jones said.

North Carolina, Syracuse, Oklahoma State, Tennessee and Ohio State also courted him, but he became sold on Maryland, Tices or no.

"I liked the staff, the players, the location and the fact Maryland had won a couple of Atlantic Coast Conference titles," Jones said.

Little did he realize the repercussions of Len Bias' death would linger. Maryland's 6-5 record this year was its first winning season since 1985, the year before Bias died.

"It was my best decision at that time," Jones said in defense of his choice. "It paid off in the sense that I learned to deal with adversity. I've gotten things out of this experience that aren't obvious to the average person.

"Our 6-5 record this year is a step in the right direction. If Maryland goes on to bigger things, it'll all come back to our 6-5, and I was part of that."

When he arrived, Jones wasn't sure what Maryland had in mind for him. At Central Islip, he had experience on the offensive and defensive lines and as a tight end. He was named New York's Gatorade Player of the Year and was a member of The Sporting News' "Best of the Blue Chips" prep All-America team.

"I wanted to be a tight end," Jones said, "but I soon realized offensive line would be the quickest way to play."

He has been the right tackle every year except his sophomore season, when he played on the left side. Offensive line coach John Zernhelt, himself an offensive lineman of distinction at Maryland in the 1970s, feels Jones has everything it takes to play in the NFL.

"He reacts well to changing situations in front of him," Zernhelt said. "Football is important to him; it's important to him that he's good at it. A lot of kids have talent, but they don't have that."

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