• 70°

Jones eyes starting spot at Auburn

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

It was an adjustment for Keiondre Jones.

The former Callaway High standout arrived at the University of Auburn as a highly touted offensive lineman, and he hoped to step right into the starting lineup, or at least get significant playing time as a freshman.

Auburn had a veteran offensive line in 2019, though, and there wasn’t much need for Jones or any of the other inexperienced linemen to get on the field.

“It was humbling,” said Jones, who ended up taking a red-shirt year, meaning he has four seasons of eligibility remaining. “Coming from being a four-year starter (at Callaway), sitting the bench and not playing a game was a battle to say the least.”

Jones made the most of the situation, though.

Each day in practice he was locking horns with Auburn’s first-team defense, which featured some of the country’s best defensive lineman, including Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson.

“I went against Derrick, and Marlon, every single day,” Jones said. “So that built my confidence going against those boys. You’re not going to see too many Derrick Browns. If I could hold my own against them, I should be just fine next season.”

Despite the disappointment of not playing, Jones maintained a positive attitude and worked hard, and now he’s ready to earn a spot in the lineup.

“I feel like I showed them throughout the season what I could do, so this season coming up I’m not taking no for an answer,” Jones said.

Jones had hoped to take a big step toward achieving that goal with a strong performance in spring practice, but that plan has been put on hold as Auburn and schools across the country deal with the threat of the coronavirus.

The spring game has already been canceled, and whether spring practice will happen at all or in what form is still to be determined.

Jones and all of his classmates at Auburn have been sent home and they’re taking classes online, and the football players obviously don’t have access to the school’s workout equipment.

“I just have to kind of make do right now,” Jones said. “They’re hopeful to get us there either in late April or May, but we’ll see.”

Jones began getting looks from college coaches before he’d even played one high-school game, and the attention only increased when he started as a freshman at Callaway High.

Jones ended up starting for four seasons at Callaway, and he helped lead the team to appearances in the state semifinals in 2016 and 2018.

Jones received offers from big-time programs from coast to coast, and in the summer of 2018 he announced that Auburn was going to be his college home, and he made it official in December of that year when he signed his letter of intent.

During Jones’ freshman season Auburn went 9-4, and that included a wild 48-45 home win over Alabama.

If the Tigers are going to duplicate or surpass the success they had last season, some newcomers will have to show they’re up to the challenge.

There are some key players to replace, including six seniors on the offensive line. The only veteran on the offensive line, in fact, is Nick Brahms, who has started nine games over the past two seasons.

Auburn does have some gifted offensive players returning, though, including quarterback Bo Nix, who was the SEC freshman of the year in 2019.

“Excited isn’t even the word,” Jones said when looking at the potential of the offense. “We’re going to be ready. We’ve got a lot of offensive linemen to replace, but I think we’ll be just fine. I don’t think there’ll be a drop-off at all. I think it’s going to be special. The offensive line with coach (Jack Bicknell), the offensive line coach, it’s going to be a special thing.”

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn is eager to see how things play out on the offensive line.

“I think competition will be a big key,” Malzahn said. “(I’m) really looking forward to see how all that lines up.”