“Johnny Manziel,” Jones said by way of explanation in a post-practice interview Wednesday. “He carried the legacy of the celebration.”
Jones and Manziel actually have more in common than most folks might realize. Both are from Texas, and both are considered undersized football players with some oversized gifts. A star quarterback at Texas A&M, Manziel measured in at 5-foot-11 before the 2014 NFL draft. Jones said he “likes to say I’m 6-foot,” but admittedly comes in short of that.
Slightly built at 165 pounds when he arrived at UGA from Brock, Texas, Jones is a relatively stout 183 pounds three years into Georgia’s strength-and-conditioning program. And while Jones doesn’t project as an eventual No. 1 pick as Manziel became, Jones has proved to be much more than a scout-team, tackling dummy as most predicted.
Three games into the 2023 season, he’s the Bulldogs’ No. 2 back.
Because of injuries in the backfield, senior Daijun Edwards, sophomore split end Dillon Bell and Jones constitute Georgia’s primary running back rotation. The Bulldogs lost sophomore Branson Robinson to a preseason-camp knee injury, and senior Kendall Milton (knee) and Roderick Robinson (ankle) are sidelined with leg issues. Redshirt freshman Andrew Paul, Georgia’s other scholarship back, is a year removed from an ACL reconstruction and, thus far, has been used sparingly.
Which brings us back to Jones. Earlier this year, running backs coach Dell McGee labeled Jones the Bulldogs’ fastest back and best pass-catcher out of the backfield. Three games in, he’s fourth among the backs in rushing (7 for 29 yards) and first in receiving (7 for 67).
As his money-hands gesture might suggest, Jones is not unfamiliar with scoring. His touchdown against the Gamecocks was the third of his career. He also caught a 27-yard touchdown pass from Carson Beck against Ball State and scored on a 36-yard run last season against Vanderbilt.
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
None of those moments were taken for granted, especially the one against South Carolina.
“It was a dream come true, for sure,” Jones said. “I always had dreams growing up about scoring a touchdown in a close game like that.”
That said, he didn’t take much personal credit for the score.
“Our linemen are like the best in the nation,” he said. “They blocked it perfectly, and I came in untouched.”
For the Bulldogs, none of this is new. They’ve marveled at Jones’ scout-team work the past two seasons, and they’ve been quick to celebrate his accomplishments so far this year.
“Man, he’s awesome,” sophomore guard Dylan Fairchild said. “He’s one of the hardest-working people on our team. He’s a really good player and a good teammate.”
Said coach Kirby Smart: “He’s a perfect example of work hard, stay in the program, stick around, get calloused. Just keep working, and your opportunity comes. I mean, he’s a product of the culture that we create with hard work.”
Jones had several scholarship opportunities after starring in high school as a four-sport athlete (baseball, basketball, football and track). For a while, he was committed to New Mexico State. But thanks to the relentless pursuit of McGee, who insisted that preferred walk-on status with the Bulldogs was more valuable than anything else he’d been offered, Jones agreed to come to UGA.
“It’s definitely one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and I couldn’t be more blessed to be in this situation,” Jones said.
As for his first name, as cool as it fits with his new TD celebration, it actually has nothing to do with money. His given name is Cashion, which is his mother’s maiden name.
But if he scores again, expect to see money-hands again. Jones said there is nothing he enjoys more than scoring touchdowns. He’d been Jonesing to get back in the end zone since that long run against the Commodores last year.
“Growing up, you dream of scoring a touchdown in a game at a school like Georgia,” he said. “I actually could not stop smiling after that one. I went to sleep, I was still smiling, and I smiled for the entire day after that.”