Denison's record setting back doesn't worry about superlatives
The yard you think would stick with D.J. Jones the most is the one he never gained. In the region semifinals against Sulphur Springs last season, the senior running back came up chain links short on fourth-and-two during a critical first-half drive for the Yellow Jackets.
But as soon as that play was over, it was on to the next carry. And the carry after that. And the carry after that.
Just like last week, when Jones had a chance to set a school record, he had no idea he had done so.
"He's not a me guy at all," Denison head coach Cody White said. "He just plays. I've never heard him say a word about a record."
Jones has racked up plenty of other yards in the past three seasons and the total has swelled with each passing game. In last week's victory he became the Yellow Jackets' all-time leading rusher and now has 5,236 career rushing yards as Denison (12-1) faces Sulphur Springs (10-3) in a the Class 4A Division II Region II final at 2 p.m. on Saturday at SMU's Gerald J. Ford Stadium.
"Getting it is good and everything, but I'm just trying to win state with my team," Jones said.
Any back knows the symbiotic relationship he must have with his line. Jones has had Corbin Boettger and Jaqwaylin Arps blocking the last two years with Ben Hander, Connor Counce, Dillon Wedel and Richard McKinney leading the way as well this season.
"They produce holes big enough to run trucks through," he said. "I've just been running behind them."
Ranked as one of the top players in the state of Texas and one of the best running backs in the nation, Jones holds scholarship offers from Florida, Texas A&M, Baylor, Texas Tech and Kansas, among others, but has not yet made a decision on where he will play in college.
"Right now it's not about that; it's about the team and winning," Jones said. "After we get done then I can focus on that. But it's not about me right now."
Using a blend of power and speed, Jones has shown an ability to excel in all areas required of a back. He can run over or past defenders, catch the ball out of the backfield, serve as a punishing blocker when quarterback Jordan Taylor throws or runs, and he rarely ever fumbles.
"He's got a lot of tools," White said. "A lot of things you ask a back to do, he can do."
His sophomore year began with such promise after his play on the freshman team. But a nagging foot injury allowed only flashes of the potential -- 615 yards and three touchdowns on 115 carries -- that was waiting to burst out.
"The biggest thing, first off, is he's learned to practice since his sophomore year," White said. "He's a super competitor."
Healthy as a junior, he put together the greatest season in school history as part of a record-setting offense. Jones ran for a program-best 2,646 yards on 238 carries, which comes out to 11 yards per touch, and finished with 39 total touchdowns as Denison went 12-1. Thirty-five of them came on the ground, one short of Reggie Hunt's school mark, which was set in 16 games.
A huge chunk of those numbers came in the best performance by a Jacket in a single game -- 432 rushing yards, seven rushing touchdowns, eight total touchdowns and points by an individual -- in Denison's wild 65-64 victory over McKinney last year.
"I've never seen anything like that," White said. "There's a few where he didn't get touched."
Jones was voted the Most Valuable Player in District 9-4A and was a first-team Class 4A all-state selection by the Associated Press and the Texas Sports Writers Association.
While the numbers this year aren't as eye-popping, Jones is still putting together another outstanding season.
"We did what we wanted to do," White said. "When we played Sulphur Springs last year, D.J. was beat up. We're able to spread the ball around a lot more and keep him fresh for this time of year."
He enters the game against Sulphur Springs with 1,975 yards and 25 touchdowns on 229 carries and when he crosses the 2,000-yard barrier will become the only Jacket to compile multiple seasons with at least that many yards. He already has two of the five best years by a Denison running back.
The relationship with Taylor has been beneficial for both individually and for an offense that has produced at a record clip over the past two seasons.
"It's just how we've been doing it since we started playing together," Jones said. "You get that kind of bond when you've been together so long."
In the Jackets' 35-26 victory over Marshall last week, Jones ran for 177 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. He became the program's all-time leading rusher in the third quarter on a four-yard run that pushed him past Corey Robertson's mark of 5,218, which was set five years ago.
The touchdown run was the 63rd of his career, tying Chris Robertson for second on the all-time list and 11 from passing Corey Robertson for the top spot. He also pulled even with Corey Robertson for the most 100-yard games -- 26 -- in a career, just another in a long run of milestones.
"Things have been perfect for me," Jones said. "If it wasn't for the offensive line, I wouldn't do anything. It's more their record than mine."