KENOSHA, Wis. – Amidst the hollering and excitement at the announcement by Pat Fitzgerald that the pool would be open that night and that snacks would be provided both that night and the next day, Fitzgerald made an interesting point to his team and to one player in particular. As the team gathered around the coach at the conclusion of Tuesday’s practice, Fitzgerald spoke about a moment toward the end of the day that almost nobody would notice.
During the two-minute drill, wide receiver Tony Jones made a reception down the field. As the play finished he quickly tossed the football to the closest person wearing a referee shirt in order to move on to the next play. To most, it was an insignificant moment. But for Fitzgerald, Jones and the rest of the football team it will be the little things, Fitzgerald preached, that will make the difference for them.
Fitzgerald pointed out that instead of tossing the ball to the first referee he saw–in this case, the side judge–Jones should have found the umpire in the middle of the field so that he could quickly place the ball down so that the offense could save precious time in the closing minutes of a football game.
“This is the way champions practice,” Fitzgerald said to the team.
In a sense, the scene epitomizes Tony Jones’ role for Northwestern this year. He has always had tremendous speed and quickness and now in his second year as a starter, it is the little things that will make his game complete, both from a strategic and leadership standpoint.
After missing all of the 2011 season with a torn ligament in his right knee, Jones came back in 2012 as arguably the Wildcats’ most dangerous weapon on the outside. He led the team with four receiving touchdowns last season. Now after a full season of contributing under his belt, Jones went into the offseason with a number of things he aimed to improve upon.
“I think obviously my speed is my strength,” Jones said. “I’ve just focused on running better routes, catching the ball consistently and making big plays after the short catches. Really just proving that, while I am a deep-ball threat, I can catch balls underneath and make big plays and make people miss. [I want to show] that there’s a lot of versatility in my game.”
Along with being a deep threat, Jones hopes his offseason work will help him in becoming a reliable target for quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian regardless of the situation.
“I definitely want to develop more as a possession receiver. I want to let the quarterbacks know that I’ll be open on the underneath routes–the short drags, the hitches–just so that they know that they can go to me on more than just the deep balls down the field when they need a big play. Whether it’s a big play down the field or a third-and-eight for ten yards, just to let them know that I am going to be open and that I am going to make the catch,” Jones said.
As he enters his redshirt junior year, Jones knows that it won’t be enough to just produce on the field. The little things go farther than running sharp routes and having soft hands as focusing on minute details sets a strong example for the rest of the team.
“Time has really flown by,” Jones said. “I was just sitting in a meeting and thought, ‘Man, I’m one of the older guys around here now.’ It’s definitely time for me to step up and help the younger guys out. Coach Fitzgerald and [Wide Receivers] Coach Springer have expressed to me that they want me to step up as a leader and its something I’ve been focusing on.”
Fitzgerald can tell that Jones is well on his way to becoming the versatile player and exemplary teammate he knows Jones can be.
“I just expect [Jones] to take that next step: fundamentally improving, technically improving, consistently catching the ball,” Fitzgerald said. “Doing all of the little things that an experienced guy does.”