Football: Jones gives back to Northwestern and Evanston communities

 Northwestern running back Tyris Jones has embraced his role as the Wildcats’ third down back in passing situations.

Daily file photo by Meghan White

Northwestern running back Tyris Jones has embraced his role as the Wildcats’ third down back in passing situations.

Josh Walfish, Gameday Editor

Tyris Jones came to Northwestern in 2008 as a walk-on linebacker with the hope of giving back to his community.

In 2012, the senior is now a running back, but his commitment to the NU and Evanston community is still strong. Jones said he was raised to give back because his parents sacrificed much for him and taught him to pass his blessings on to others.

“It’s all about just being grateful that I was blessed with different talents,” Jones said. “When you look around at the Northwestern community, when you look around at the Evanston and greater Chicago community, you have to understand that you’re in such a privileged position that you have to give back to those people and help other people get to the place you are. If I can utilize my talents, if I can utilize my gifts to give back, then that’s how I’ve been taught.”

While Jones has made a commitment off the field, his play on it has steadily improved. He made the transition from linebacker to running back — a position he hadn’t played since the sixth grade — at the end of his redshirt freshman season. The transition was not as hard as one might think because Jones was playing scout-team defense in practice, which meant he was running plays the Wildcats’ opponents would run and not plays from NU’s defensive playbook; position change or not, he would have needed to learn the Cats’ own plays in greater detail.

That doesn’t mean the transition was completely smooth. When Jones switched to running back, he said there was an adjustment period as he learned what the coaches wanted from their running backs and relearned how to play the position.

Jones has worked hard to earn his role as a third-down back, giving starter Venric Mark brief rests during the game, particularly in passing situations. Jones said his whole experience has been a struggle, but he thinks he has taken advantage of everything that’s been presented to him and has rightfully earned his playing time.

“It’s just been an uphill battle,” Jones said. “As any player, you have to fight for whatever it is you want. Northwestern does a great job at giving you those opportunities. When you’re able to take advantage of them as I think I’ve been able to as the year has progressed, I found my way onto the field.”

Jones’ first opportunity to take the field was on special teams, an area in which he still excels. Against Iowa on Oct. 27, Jones rushed in and blocked a punt at the beginning of the second half. The big play came as a surprise for Jones, who said he was looking for whoever was going block him before he saw the open lane and got to the punter. Jones was denied the opportunity to make an even bigger impact when the ball rolled out of bounds at the four-yard line right before he could scoop it up and take it in for a touchdown.

It is those type of plays that have allowed Jones to be one of the unsung heroes for the Cats throughout his career. He’s a player who may not be well-known but still works hard. Coach Pat Fitzgerald said that mindset has allowed Jones to be successful at NU.

“He’s been kind of one of those guys that’s been behind the scenes,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s just been a guy that assumed a role and he wants more, which I don’t blame him for, but at the end of the day he’s taking his roles and having a great attitude with it.”

Even though he does not see the field that often on offense, the entire unit feeds off Jones’ constant energy.

“Tyris is a vocal leader,” sophomore tackle Jack Konopka said. “He’s the kind of guy who comes in, works hard, does what he has to do every day and not make excuses about it.”

The same passion Jones has used to propel him into a more prominent role on the field has also helped him be the man he wants to be off the field. He said he plans to do nonprofit work or other business experience for a couple of years after graduation before moving on to law school and practicing law. After that, he hopes to run for a seat in the United States Senate.

Jones ties it all back to his commitment to giving back to his community. He said it is his “responsibility” to go back and help fix the education system so more people can have upward mobility in the country. Whatever it is Jones decides to do, his coach will be there anxiously awaiting what will happen.

“He’s got a bright future in whatever it is he chooses to do,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m looking forward to watching that happen. I got a feeling he’ll be in that presidential race down the road.”