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There's No Keeping Up With Jones

The senior is the latest in a long line of top-flight prospects at Long Beach Poly, and speed is the asset that sets him apart.

September 02, 2003|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

The bottom half of Derrick Jones' football resume, the part that will be listed below whatever college he decides to attend, looks pretty good to NFL eyes.

Top-flight track sprinter. Downfield football speed. Yet another standout in a long list from Long Beach Poly High.

More than 40 Poly players have made it to the NFL, Willie McGinest, Mark Carrier and Gene Washington among them.

It's too early and too difficult to predict Jones' pro potential, but Poly Coach Raul Lara compares him to former Jackrabbit receivers Kareem Kelly, New Orleans' sixth-round pick in April's NFL draft, and Ken-Yon Rambo, who was recently released after two seasons with Dallas.

"The difference with Derrick is definitely the speed factor," Lara said. "Rambo was more agile. He knew how to get away from people. He'd be cornered, and all of a sudden he'd get out of there and was gone.

"Derrick is much faster than Kelly was in high school. Derrick is ridiculous. His speed is the best attribute that he has."

Jones had 39 catches for 1,474 yards last season, a 37.8 average, and scored 16 touchdowns on receptions and kick returns.

A few months later, he ran a 10.44 in the 100-meter dash at the Arcadia Invitational.

Jones, 6 feet 2 and 180 pounds, has narrowed his college choices to USC, Texas, Miami, Florida State, UCLA and Oregon.

"It's great to hear I'm being compared to the greatest receivers that ever came out of Poly," Jones said. "I just try not to think about it most of the time."

Jones didn't last long at his first sport, baseball. He was too good, too fast ... at age 6.

He'd field a ground ball and chase down runners himself instead of throwing to a base.

"That's when I first found out Derrick had wheels," said his father, Mike.

Jones started Pop Warner football at 8, gliding past the other kids and scoring touchdown after touchdown near his hometown of Gardena.

But his football career almost faltered early in his sophomore season.

Poly was playing the behemoth from the north, Concord De La Salle, in a nonleague game. Jones dropped three potential touchdown passes, in the first, second and fourth quarters, and Poly lost, 29-15.

His first reaction was to quit. Running track, his other sport, seemed so much simpler: An athlete controlled his destiny and would let only himself down, not an entire team.

But Jones refused to become known as a speedster with poor hands.

"They felt I couldn't catch the ball," he said. "I had to show them I could."

He worked on improving his hands with coaches after practice. When the season ended, he worked with teammates on his concentration and catching.

It worked. The problems of the De La Salle game were all but dropped.

"He's been on fire since then," Lara said. "I think he realized how much he needed to improve in big-pressure games."

Jones won't have to prove much more to recruiters this season, but Poly, unlike past years, has something to prove.

The Jackrabbits lost to Santa Ana Mater Dei in last year's playoff semifinals and failed to reach the Southern Section Division I championship game for the first time since 1996.

Against Mater Dei, Jones scored a 73-yard touchdown on a flanker screen to give Poly a 20-7 lead, but the Monarchs scored the final two touchdowns for a 21-20 victory.

"I felt we should have blown out Mater Dei," Jones said. "We shouldn't have let them beat us like that."

It affected Jones deeply, yet, as a new season approaches, the loss provides incentive.

"I didn't go out for track season until February, I felt that bad," he said. "We need to bring the championship home to where it needs to be."

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