Football: Christian Jones overcomes adversity to close out impressive Northwestern career


Daniel Tian/Daily Senior Staffer

Christian Jones celebrates a touchdown against Iowa. The senior receiver has been a critical safety blanket for redshirt freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson.

Huzaifa Patel, Reporter

Before he was playing in bowl games and lining up against All Big-Ten cornerbacks, Christian Jones was just a Texas kid trying to one-up his friend.

“It (football) started with competitive drive,” Jones said after practice last week. “You always want to be better than someone else, so it was me and one of my teammates always going back and forth … and it just grew from there.”

Competitive drive and response to adversity have defined Jones throughout his football career. He tore his ACL for the first time before his senior season in high school, but he battled back. Coach Pat Fitzgerald honored his scholarship, and Jones became an immediate contributor for the Cats.

Then, with personnel changes after his freshman year, Jones was forced to move inside to the slot position, which receivers coach Dennis Springer described as a major adjustment in Northwestern’s system.

Jones proceeded to lead Northwestern in receiving in 2012 and 2013, totalling 89 catches for 1,080 yards and six touchdowns and cemented himself as the go-to target for the Cats.

“There’s a couple of things we call where we know the ball is designed to go to him,” Springer said. “And when he’s on, he catches everything.”

One play, detailed by former Northwestern receivers as “Y-Mac,” might epitomize Jones’ status as NU’s go-to guy. Often used around the goal line, Jones lines up in his usual slot position, runs 5-10 yards and cuts toward the sideline.

“That play’s been there for years,” Jones said. “That was Ebert’s play before me. … He had a lot of success with it — that’s why it’s still in the offense. It’s more of an honor than anything.”

Jones stressed that he hasn’t only grown his game at Northwestern. He has also been front and center on the team’s Leadership Council for three years running. Teammate and fellow wide receiver Stephen Buckley described him as quiet, but he said Jones has been a leader by example. Springer agreed.

“I think that’s the other place where he’s had to grow up here,” Springer said. “As a leader of the team and the position group, you always have to be the guy up front working hard, doing the extras so that the younger guys know that that’s the expectation. He set the standard as a leader, and by doing that, you gain the respect of all of your peers and teammates.”

Outside of football, Jones, who majored in learning and organizational change, is working on bringing what he has learned back to his hometown and implementing a program similar to NU for Life — a career development program for student athletes — at his high school.

“I’ve grown a lot athletically, but also in learning about the things I can accomplish outside of sports and the impact I can have on others when I give back to the community,” Jones said. “Knowing that I can come up with things to help other people out has just been a lot of fun.”

When talking about the possibility of trying his hand in the NFL, Jones was mum, saying he is focused on his last few games with NU. But he has followed the journey of his friend and former NU quarterback Trevor Siemian.

“He said, ‘It’s crazy I can actually start in Denver,” Jones said. “I’m just really excited (for him). We had a (fantasy) draft, and we made Clayton (Thorson) or somebody pick up Trevor.”

As a big-bodied wide receiver who has produced in the Big Ten, Jones will probably get a look somewhere. If he hadn’t torn his ACL for the second time before the 2014 season, he might have already made it.

Jones admits that being less than a year removed from his last surgery, he isn’t 100 percent back yet. That seems to be the next step for him football-wise.

“Technically it is (in the past),” Jones said, adding that he still thinks he’ll get more speed and strength back. “But you still have your days where you can’t do certain things. You have to find your way around it.”

With multiple interests post-graduation, it’s hard to predict where Jones will end up. But his NU legacy is clear — a competitive guy who excelled and overcame adversity on and off the field.

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Twitter: @HuzaifaPatel95