Big 12 Sports.com Correspondent
Brad Jones left Big Ten country for the Rocky Mountains. Like many who graduated from high school, Jones had a desire to spread his wings away from home. So he chose to play football at Colorado.
"I want to see as many as places as possible I thought college was a good place to start," Jones said. "After my first semester, I had fell in love with Boulder. Different climate, different people, different everything."
Paradise was lost - briefly - when the Buffaloes changed coaches after the 2005 season. Jones, who had been recruited by coach Gary Barnett and his staff, suddenly found himself in a program run by new coach Dan Hawkins.
"Nobody expects to go to college and expects you're coach is going to be fired," said Jones, a senior linebacker. "At first, it was devastating. The coaches who recruited me were gone. I didn't know any of the new coaches.
"Really, really, really, very quickly it went from 'Aw, man, who is this new dude?' to 'Man, this guy's a good coach, I like this guy, I like his ideas.' It was a really good change and brought a lot of electricity to the program."
Jones is in his third year as a strong-side linebacker for Colorado. The 2-0 Buffs face No. 22 West Virginia Thursday night on ESPN.
Jones, who is from East Lansing, Mich., the home of Michigan State, arrived in Boulder ready to play. Barnett said that deciding to have Jones sit out the 2004 season as a redshirt was one of the toughest coaching decisions he has ever made.
"Every freshman wants to come to college and play right away," said Jones, who is majoring in economics. "You don't get out of high school, get the scholarship offers and say, 'OK, I'll sit out my freshman year as a redshirt. Everybody wants to play.
"When they proposed the idea of the redshirt they kind of left it up to me. The coaches sold it as a great opportunity because there was a guy playing ahead of me. They explained it that I could redshirt, learn from the guy for one season and then have the position to myself for three seasons."
With the value of hindsight, Jones agrees that Barnett made the right decision.
"To be able to get acclimated to college and college football, getting stronger and faster, it was the way to do it," he said. "Sitting out that year really set up the rest of my career."
Jones played in all 13 games in 2005 and has been a starter the last two seasons. Linebackers coach Brian Cabral, who was retained by Hawkins after the coaching change, has seen Jones mature and improve.
"He was thrown into the fire his first season and he's played a lot of football for us," Cabral said. "Going into his final season, I think he understands the system more than ever and has become a complete player."
Colorado utilizes Jones in a variety of ways. He can cover tight ends in pass coverage He's asked to play "inside the box" and stop the run. And this season Cabral is using Jones' pass-rushing ability in blitzing situation.
"We put him in a lot of situations and we give him more responsibility than any of our linebackers," Cabral said.
Jones is considered an "intelligent" player but that doesn't mean his uniform comes equipped with a pocket protector. He's also 6-3 and 230 pounds with good speed and quickness.
"Everybody loves to be described as an athletic player but when someone says you're an intelligent player it's like you've surpassed your athletic ability," Jones said. "In college, you really, really learn football. The stuff I learned in high school kinda became irrelevant. You learn so much technique, how to do things. You're always adding to your knowledge."
Cabral says that Jones has enhanced his physical ability with mental preparation.
"He understands the game and what he needs to do," Cabral said. "He's very smart. He's relying on his intelligence to make himself better."
Jones says his cerebreal approach is merely a way to help anticipate being in the right place at the right time.
"Nobody knows what the other team is gonna do all the time," Jones said. "It's more about studying film, knowing football and knowing the pursuit angles. When I see the tackle pull, I know I've got to be in a certain spot because I know that's where the tailback is supposed to go.
"You sometimes approach it like you're a quarterback on defense. You have to consider the down and distance, see what personnel comes in the game. Then you try to figure how where you need to go."