Former basketball star was recruited by Miami as tight end, but Bulls' interest led him to Tampa.
By PETE YOUNG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 15, 2002
TAMPA -- Tim Jones is a 6-foot-3, 250-pound premier athlete from Lakeland Kathleen who is a budding star at defensive end for South Florida. The sophomore demonstrated his ability Saturday, registering two sacks in the fourth quarter to help preserve the Bulls' 31-28 win over Memphis.
It seems like destiny: superstar prep goes to local college and succeeds. Actually, Jones has had more degrees of separation from said school (USF) and position (defensive end) than Kevin Bacon.
The path from there to here has had several twists, but after his breakout performance last weekend, Jones appears to have found his place.
"I miss catching the ball and running with it," said Jones, who recently switched from tight end. "But I think I'm on defense for good."
The genes in Jones' family run toward basketball. His brother, 6-8 Kathleen star Chris Richard, generally is regarded as the state's top player, and he signed Wednesday with Florida. His sister, Sherita Richard, also plays basketball for Kathleen.
A broken leg forced Jones to miss his junior basketball season. His football stock kept skyrocketing, though, and by the end of his senior season, Jones was set to play tight end for Miami. It took a late coup by the Bulls to bring the blue-chipper to USF.
Jones quickly rose to the top of the depth chart last fall as a freshman. All seemed well, except for one thing -- he wasn't playing much. The tight end frequently isn't on the field in USF's receiver-heavy spread offense.
Jones made four catches for 26 yards last season. In the first two games this season, he had two for 34.
"I was going to wait until the end of the year and then ask them if I could move (to defense)," said Jones, who had played some middle linebacker in high school.
The coaches were a step ahead of him, but they weren't thinking linebacker. They had Jones practice part time at defensive end late in the preseason while reserve end Emerson Morris struggled to come back from a broken leg.
Two weeks into the season, before the Arkansas game, Morris retired because his leg was not healing. The coaches approached Jones.
"On like Tuesday we go, "Tim, how would you like to play D end?"' coach Jim Leavitt said. "(He said), "Well, I've never really played there.' (We said), "Well, we think you can do okay.'
"Now all of a sudden he is rotating in there and gets two sacks last Saturday. That's hard for a young man to do that, to make that transition. He did it for our team. He was very unselfish, and I think that's extraordinary."
"Tackling comes naturally," Jones said. "I just have to learn all the other stuff."
Morris' broken leg moved Jones to defense, and Jones' broken leg is what sparked his signing with USF.
Jones had a metal plate inserted in his right femur his junior year at Kathleen. He played with it his senior year, then had it removed.
"The coaches from Miami didn't even call (until shortly) after the surgery," Jones said. "The coaches here, coach (Wally) Burnham and coach (Rick) Kravitz, they could have just called, but they came to my house. I saw that they really cared about me."
After the position switch, the soft-spoken Jones switched his number from 82 to 99, and threw himself into his new position, as senior Chris Daley's backup at left end. He has made 22 tackles, five for a loss, and three sacks.
Last week, with Daley also playing some tackle, Jones' playing time increased. He responded with the big sacks, the second one on the final drive.
"It wasn't me. I didn't really do anything. (Right defensive end) Shurron (Pierson) pushed the quarterback to me," Jones said. "Everybody on the front four did their jobs, and the quarterback came my way."
Modesty aside, Jones has the tools to make an impact at end -- defensive end or tight end, though there are no plans to go back.
"Tim's going to be a great player," Daley said. "He has the athletic talent and the know-how to get to the football. When he gets it all squared away, he'll be one of the best."