June 22, 2011

Where are they now: Keith Jones

It takes a special player to earn the nickname "End Zone" as a running back at Nebraska, but Keith Jones was that kind of player. Following in the footsteps of some of NU's all-time great backs, Jones ended his career as one of the Huskers top rushers in school history, and his knack for scoring touchdowns had him forever remembered as End Zone Jones.


In this week's edition of "Where are they now?" HuskerOnline.com caught up with Jones to get his thoughts on his time at Nebraska and on the Huskers going into their first season in the Big Ten Conference.


Looking back on your career, you obviously had some great moments at Nebraska. Are there any that still stick with you as some of your favorites?


"I have a lot of great memories, some good and then some heartbreaking as far as losing a big game. Those stick with almost as much some of the big games you win. I think for every athlete, you strive to do the best you can, and when you've done that and still end up with a loss, a lot of times that's kind of hard to swallow. But that's just a part of life's lessons. We get up each day to try and be the best that we can, but not always do things go the way we want them to go."


What are some of those losses that you still think about the most?


"For me, both my junior and senior years, when we played Oklahoma, those stick out the most. The one in Lincoln (in 1986), I recall, that got away from us with just minutes left in the game. It was a hard fought game, and Keith Jackson the (Oklahoma) tight end was able to make an incredible catch on the sideline, and Oklahoma went on to beat us that game by a field goal. Of course that's a hard game to swallow, especially when you fought hard both offensively and defensively in a pretty low-scoring game like that.


"Then that following year, we jumped out to an early lead, which was very exciting because we felt going into that game that we were going to get revenge for the previous year. Well they went on to beat us again. Those were probably the two toughest games that I've had to face and had to live with for all these years."


I'm curious as to how you earned the nickname "End Zone Jones" and what it was like trying to live up to a title like that?


"I've always felt like whenever I had the ball in my hands, you never knew when the next opportunity would come. So that was just my mentality as a running back. I also felt like the quicker we could score and the more consistent we could be scoring, it would always put our defense in a more advantageous position. I always played with a chip on my shoulder to where if we got down into the red zone, you've got to get six. It's not a question of settling for three.


"As a running back, you really have a lot of impact and a lot of say in those situations. That was just my mindset and my philosophy. I never thought if I don't get it on this play I'll get it on the next one. My mindset was we've got to get it now. For me, it wasn't necessarily trying to live up to the nickname, but just knowing that every opportunity that I got I had to take advantage of it."












Where are they now?
Player: Keith Jones, 1984-87


Current city: Omaha, Neb.


Family:Wife: Jeanne; Children: Quincy (12), Kaydon (6), Ezley (1) and Xonya (1).


Current profession: After retiring from football in 1992, Jones worked as general manager at Lens Crafters and also was part owner of a small company called Husker BBQ Sauce. Today, Jones is a proud stay-at-home dad, as his biggest responsibility is taking care of he and his wife's four children, particularly their twin daughters, who just turned one year old earlier this month. Jones says he also works out regularly and is committed to keeping up an active and healthy lifestyle.


Professional career: Following his successful collegiate career, Jones was selected in the sixth round of the 1988 NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Rams and also played for the Cleveland Browns and the Dallas Cowboys until 1992.


NU career accomplishments: It took an unfortunate twist of fate for Jones to get his first start at Nebraska as a junior in 1986, as two-time All-Big Eight running back Doug DuBose suffered a knee injury in a scrimmage before the season and opened the door for Jones into the starting line up. All he did from there was earn two straight all-conference selections of his own and finish his career as NU's third all-time leading rusher with 2,488 yards and fourth with all-time with 31 career rushing touchdowns. Hence the nickname.




Some of Nebraska's all-time great running backs played during your time as a Husker. What was it like following in the footsteps of Mike Rozier and playing with guys like Doug DuBose?


"What that did from just an overall competitive standpoint, it made you work hard. When you talk about athletes and being competitive, it was more important to compete. It wasn't really about necessarily who your opponent was the next week coming up, it was in practice. It was the guy who was starting in front of you or the guy behind you that was pushing for your spot. During those years, it was always so competitive during practice and scrimmages, because you knew that pretty much at any moment that next guy could step in play your role.


"When you become a starter at Nebraska, and I'm just speaking from a running back's perspective, that's something you do not want to relinquish to anybody. It's an opportunity, it's a great tradition, and there's a certain passion that you play with when you played that position. It was always so competitive during those years, and the depth at the position was amazing. Coach (Frank) Solich always did a great job making sure the running backs were prepared. When I look back on those days, it's very rare, even now, where you have any Division I have that kind of depth at that position."


Do you still follow the Huskers today? If so, what's been your impression of the program the past few years under Bo Pelini?


"Oh yeah. One of the things I try to do is go down to practice and try to get a pulse on the team, the personnel and just overall energy of the guys in practice. A lot of times, that can pretty much tell you what kind of team you're dealing with. Since Bo Pelini has been there, I've been completely impressed with their preparation and how they've come together as a team ad how they've been competitive."


Then I'm sure you watched Roy Helu break the school single-game rushing record last year against Missouri. Knowing all the great running backs that have played at Nebraska, what was your reaction to him breaking that record?


"It was great to see Roy have a breakout game. That was by far the kind of breakout game that any running back would dream about having, and to see him have that was great. The previous year I got the chance to talk with him at one of the practices I was at, and Roy was very intuitive. He would ask me questions most running backs in the past wouldn't ask. His interest was, when you're in the backfield and the play is about to be ran, what do you think about? For a lot of running backs, they could be thinking a number of things. My response to him was, you don't think. Don't think, just react. I just felt that during that Missouri game, the way that he was so explosive, he was just reacting to what he saw as opposed to trying to run a play and trying to think about what you're going to do before you actually do it. I was very happy to see him have that type of game."


Do you think Rex Burkhead will be able to shoulder of the load as the No. 1 running back this season?


"Absolutely. The past two years Rex has been the most consistent of all the running backs, I think. He's very reliable, very versatile, and he's the kind of kid who's going to make plays for you. I think with him, and it was the same with Helu last year, those two played well as teammates together and sharing the position, but I think it also made for a competitive situation for them, which made both of them play hard. I think that's one of the reasons he's been so consistent. I expect Rex to play well this year, and I think with (Taylor) Martinez staying healthy, that one-two punch is going to go a long way for the Husker offense this year."

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