CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Virginia’s workouts this summer often ended in the same way.
Perry Jones, the Cavaliers’ do-everything back, just had to show off his on-field versatility.
“When we finish 7-on-7s, he takes the last play and he throws a pass,” said wide receiver Tim Smith, who also played with Jones in high school. “It might not be the best of passes, but he’s always ready and willing to take that last play.”
There might not be anything Jones isn’t willing to do for Virginia, which opens its season Saturday at Scott Stadium against Richmond. He rushed for 915 yards a year ago and could have a shot to become the Cavaliers’ first 1,000-yard rusher since 2004. He ranked second on Virginia in receptions as a junior with 48.
Then there was the pass, one triumphant pass in a victory at Miami last season.
“One-for-one, one touchdown for 37 yards, 740 quarterback rating,” Jones said with a laugh.
In many ways, he’s maximized his abilities over his first three years with the Cavaliers. The 5-foot-8 Jones was lightly recruited out of Chesapeake, Va., and hardly seemed destined to make a difference on offense.
Special teams was his path to quick playing time. Within a year, he was Virginia’s starting tailback.
“My freshman year, I didn’t even know I was going to play running back until the day before training camp started,” Jones said. “The whole summer I was working out as a safety and cornerback. I’m glad I got the opportunity. I don’t regret anything. It was meant for it to be this way.”
Even as the Cavaliers’ backfield grew more crowded last season, with Kevin Parks and Clifton Richardson siphoning carries, Jones‘ consistency nudged Virginia toward its first bowl bid in four years. He rushed for at least 55 yards in nine of the Cavaliers’ first 10 games and provided multiple receptions in all but four games.
With a similar cast (Parks and Richardson are his immediate backups entering the season), Jones is optimistic he can show further improvement as a senior.
“Perry is a back of all trades,” tackle Oday Aboushi said. “He’s everything you everything you ever wanted or wished you had in the backfield.”
There might even be more special teams work, too. Jones is listed as the Cavaliers’ No. 2 kickoff returner, and he could reprise a role he filled during his first two seasons.
It’s hardly a surprise.
“He will be out at practice and they need a scout team punt returner, he’ll go out and he’ll be that guy because he wants to give the representative look to the cover team,” London said. “A lot of times, I’ve had to pull him out of practice and tell him to get out of there, but he wants to give a look.”
The combination of Jones‘ steady rushing (5.0 yards a carry), reliable receiving and an eagerness to serve as a three-down back provided valuable assistance for Rocco as he gradually adjusted to the college game.
“If people only knew the person he was off the field, it’d be even more special to hear about,” Rocco said. “They call him Superman for a reason. He’s just a great person, and what he gives us on the football field is incredible as well.”
Thanks to his multidimensional play, those contributions aren’t likely to dip in his final season at Virginia. Maybe there will even be a reprise of his touchdown toss this fall.
“It’s definitely a good thing to have,” Jones said of his versatility. “I prided myself on it my entire career. I’m most proud of it because it gives our team a better chance of winning ballgames. I’m pretty confident in my abilities. Whatever coaches need me to do, I’m ready.”
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Patrick Stevens has covered Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic college sports for more than a decade. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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