Jones takes up Terps' option Freshman legs it from safety to QB

September 25, 1998|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Run, Jones, run.

A sagging Maryland football program desperately needs all the speed and natural ability Randall Jones brings to the quarterback position.

Not to mention an exciting knack the freshman from Thomas Johnson High in Frederick has for turning ordinary plays into spectacular runs.

Jones lives to tuck the football under his arm and slide along the line looking for the slightest hole to dart through for a first down or long gain.

It almost seems the three-sport star at Thomas Johnson was born to run the football and an option offense, although he has spent more time running in the hills around Frederick under the guidance of his father, Randy, who is the track coach at Thomas Johnson.

"Football is like track to my dad," Jones said. "All the conditioning revolves around running. His workouts for me are all so tough I'd much rather work out here in College Park than under him. But I was in great shape when I got here for fall camp."

Jones was the state high school 110-meter hurdles champion as a senior for his father, was a two-time all-state free safety, as well as an option quarterback, and played basketball with Terps sophomore star Terence Morris.

Maryland football coach Ron Vanderlinden liked the looks of Jones as a quarterback after just one impromptu workout the first day of preseason practice.

"Randall doesn't need a road map to make a play work," Vanderlinden said. "That's what I like most about him. And he has the speed we need to compete in the ACC."

So Vanderlinden quickly scratched Jones off the depth chart as a safety and threw him into the mix at quarterback.

It all happened so quickly that Jones had a little trouble adjusting.

"I came to Maryland wanting to be a safety," he said. "I didn't ask to be a quarterback. There's a lot more to learn and there's only one quarterback on the field at a time. But Coach Vandy told me I could help the team more at quarterback, so I made the move."

The move touched off a storybook-like climb to prominence in a little more than five weeks.

Jones has climbed past five quarterbacks on the depth chart to the backup spot and is threatening to overtake No. 1 Ken Mastrole this week as the 1-2 Terps prepare to face 0-3 Temple at Byrd Stadium tomorrow at 6 p.m.

Not too bad for a player who was first snubbed by Maryland, the school he has always loved.

"I didn't get an offer from Maryland," Jones said flatly. "I wanted to play any position for Maryland. This is my home state and it's near my family. I like everything about Maryland. It's near a big city where a lot is happening."

With no offer from the Terps, the 6-foot-2, 207-pound Jones decided to attend the Naval Academy Prep School, where he became an outstanding option quarterback and was labeled as a possible replacement for the Mids' Chris McCoy.

Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie said Jones reminded him of McCoy and wanted him in a Navy uniform this fall.

But it never happened because Jones wanted no part of a military life after seeing his father spend 20 years in the Army and his older brother, Renell, join the Marines after playing football at James Madison.

"It was so tough on Friday nights not being able to do anything," Jones said of his days at the Navy prep school. "Coach Weatherbie was disappointed, but he said the military is not for everybody and he would help me go to any school I wanted."

Given a second shot at Jones a year later, Vanderlinden took him and has reaped a rapid reward.

The future is suddenly now for Jones and the Terps.

Vanderlinden is obviously trying to figure out the best way to get Jones onto the field as often as possible without discarding the strong-armed, but slower Mastrole too quickly.

Jones fumbled on the fourth play of his college career Saturday night in the second half against No. 19 West Virginia, but he bounced back to complete five of seven passes for 70 yards and carry the ball 13 times for 49 yards while putting 17 points on the board.

So how has the 19-year-old Jones reacted to his sudden emergence with the Terps?

"Hey, I try to stay as low-key as possible," he said. "I don't think most of the students know who I am yet."

That should change soon.

Next for Maryland

Opponent: Temple (0-3)

Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park

When: Tomorrow, 6 p.m.

Pub Date: 9/25/98

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