At this time last year, Indiana’s linebacker room was in a state of transition. It was perhaps the biggest question mark on a very young defense that was full of uncertainty.
Despite only having nine career tackles going into the 2018 season, then junior Reakwon Jones was viewed as an emerging leader at a position that was dealing with the loss of two All-Big Ten caliber talents.
Heading into the 2019 campaign, IU’s linebackers are still young, but now with a year of experience, the expectations at the position are much higher. And now having a year as a starter under his belt, Jones will lead a group that he believes can be a strength of the team.
“The linebacker room I feel like it’s deeper than it’s been in a long time,” Jones said.
Of course Jones is a major part of that equation.
Making 10 starts in 2018, he had 36 tackles, including 24 solo, 4.5 for a loss, and one sack. The Lynn Haven, Fla. product added one fumble recovery, two pass breakups and one quarterback hurry in his most extensive action of his career at IU.
That experience along with a lot of meaningful action for others that are returning means the linebacker unit as a whole has the potential to once again be a significant asset on this football team.
A major part of what excites Jones about his fellow linebackers is their versatility.
“We have a lot of guys that are extremely athletic, and we have a lot of guys that can run, and guys that are strong and fast,” Jones said. “Every player is unique in their own way in the linebacker room and brings something different. We’ve got people who are just thumpers. We’ve got people who can really run athletically, cover and stuff like that. We’ve got guys that can really do both.”
While it was fairly well understood that Jones and Dameon Willis would enter the 2018 campaign as starters, this time the fifth year senior sees several young talents competing for playing time.
“It’s competitive in there too because there are only two linebackers on the field at a time so guys are competing to get on the field,” Jones said. “I’m excited to play with them.”
While the group is still young, several players saw action as freshmen, which should set them up for long and productive careers in Bloomington.
“We had a lot of linebackers play last year,” Jones said. “We had some (true) freshmen play last year like Micah McFadden and James Miller, and Thomas Allen as a redshirt freshman. I’ve watched them grow over this past offseason. They’ve matured and grown so much and have learned so much more about the playbook which is really going to help them in general a lot.”
Of course it wasn’t that long ago when Jones was the young emerging talent in the linebacker room. And he had some decorated teammates to learn from.
One of them, former All-American Tegray Scales, was on campus in Bloomington earlier in the month. Jones continues to learn from and draw inspiration from Scales.
“Tegray is like a big brother to me,” Jones said. “He motivates me all the time. I can call him any time of the day or night and have a one-on-one conversation.”
Scales is currently on the Pittsburgh Steelers 90-man roster and he will be at the team’s training camp in Latrobe, Pennsylvania this week.
Jones can also draw inspiration from another former teammate.
Chris Covington is entering his second season with the Dallas Cowboys, and the former All-Big Ten linebacker appears to have a strong chance to once again make the Cowboys’ 53-man opening day roster.
Seeing that level of success come before him fuels Jones.
“I was just rooming with Chris Covington for three years, and now he’s in the NFL with the Cowboys,” Jones said. “It’s very motivating.”
Leading a young unit at IU and his own NFL dreams drive the 6-foot-2, 233 pound Jones, but when asked what motivates him the most on the football field, he immediately went to his family.
It has been an especially trying year for his family back home on the Florida panhandle.
As Hurricane Michael crashed ashore last October, Jones had to watch and listen from as afar as his family and friends dealt with complete devastation hundreds of miles away.
While things have at least stabilized, his family is nowhere near back to normal.
“We’re not back in our home,” Jones said. “We’re not sure what’s going happen with that right now. It might get totaled, it might not. Either way, everyone is safe and they’re stable. The kids can go back to school and hang out with their friends again and stuff like that. We’re just trying to get back to a normal life.”
While they continue the recovery from Michael, Jones’ younger family members have found their own inspiration to draw from.
Jones is one class away from his degree in Creative Industry Management through the media school, and that part of his journey has not gone unnoticed back at home.
“Me being in college has made my younger siblings and younger cousins want to go to college and really go try and chase their dreams,” Jones said.
Jones has learned something about chasing dreams from some elite level linebackers that passed through Bloomington before him.
As a fifth year player and soon to be graduate, he now has his young linebacker room and his family looking up to him.
And now Jones is passing along a message that he is more than qualified to share, and one that he has no doubt heard from Scales and Covington.
“You can do what you want to do. Don’t let anybody tell you different.”
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