LOS ANGELES (AP) Although Ronald Jones II is a Texan to his Whataburger-filled core, he never fell in love with the Longhorns, Texas A&M, Baylor, TCU or any other school in his native state.
Instead, Jones grew up north of Dallas nurturing a fascination with Reggie Bush and Southern California’s star-studded championship teams.
”I just loved the Trojans,” he said.
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After just nine games in USC’s uniform, the freshman has already grabbed a spot in the record books at Tailback U., and nobody will be surprised if Jones joins his heroes as USC’s next great ball-carrier.
Jones broke LenDale White’s single-game USC freshman rushing record last weekend with 177 yards during the Trojans’ 38-30 victory over Arizona, including a 74-yard touchdown run that showcased his game-breaking talent.
”It’s crazy. It’s exciting,” Jones said. ”I didn’t think I had (the record), considering all the great backs at USC, but it feels cool to be in that category.”
The speedster sometimes known as the Texas Tesla leads USC with 710 yards and six touchdowns on the ground this season, wowing fans and opponents alike with his speed, versatility and relentlessness, particularly after contact.
”He’s got some skills that you have to see sometimes to believe,” quarterback Cody Kessler said. ”He’s just one of those guys that you know is going to be special.”
After starting the season in a complementary role to veterans Tre Madden and Justin Davis, Jones has carried the ball 45 times for 330 yards and three touchdowns during the Trojans’ current three-game winning streak. When the Trojans (6-3, 4-2 Pac-12) visit Colorado on Friday night, Jones is likely to play a major role in their run at a fourth consecutive victory under interim coach Clay Helton.
Even Jones himself didn’t expect to be so good so quickly when he signed on in January for the chance to compete with the five-star talent in USC’s always-crowded backfield. He initially committed to Oklahoma State, his older sister’s school, before accepting the challenge presented by the Trojans.
”I felt like it would honestly take longer, but I’m happy to be in the position and the role that I’m doing for my team,” Jones said.
Future Heisman Trophy winner Charles White set USC’s freshman rushing record with 858 yards in 1976, but that mark seems well within Jones’ reach with three regular-season games and a bowl to go.
USC’s coaches love Jones’ classic speed and mature work ethic, but he also possesses distinct qualities that make him stand out, such as his tendency to accelerate violently when he makes contact with a defender. Helton calls it ”the horse kick,” and Jones says it’s natural.
”It’s just leg drive, push,” Jones said, describing it as an attempt to emulate film of NFL running backs – particularly Jamaal Charles, his fellow Texan and his other football hero alongside Bush.
Although his speed and relentless energy remind Helton of Roger Craig, Jones relates more to Chris Johnson or Charles, admiring their speed and lateral cuts. In fact, Jones consciously emulates Charles all the way down to his dreadlocks and the No. 25 on his jersey, which Charles wore for the Longhorns and again with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Jones got only six carries apiece in three of the Trojans’ early-season games, but has ramped up his production with more opportunities. He even caught a TD pass last week against Arizona, showing his improvement in a self-acknowledged area of concern.
”The guys, they can stop making fun of me because I’ve finally got a receiving touchdown,” he said. ”It feels good.”
He is fitting in well off the field, too. Jones immediately won over USC fans in the season’s opening month when he half-jokingly complained about the lack of Whataburger franchises in California, not-so-subtly dissing L.A.’s beloved In-N-Out Burger.
Since then, Jones has learned to survive on Five Guys burgers and the local Buffalo Spot wings-and-ribs chain. On the field, the Trojans intend to keep feeding him the ball.
”Other than the food, the transition has been pretty smooth,” Jones said with a grin.