UTSA safety Andrew Martel had a career game at Southern Miss last season with 14 tackles and a fumble recovery, but it’s the tackle he missed out on that night that’s been on repeat for USM football fans ever since.
On a receiver screen on USM’s opening possession, quarterback Jack Abraham tossed the ball out wide to Tim Jones. Fellow receiver Quez Watkins set a nice block on the cornerback, but Martel appeared in good position to move in for the tackle on Jones to hold the play to a modest gain. Instead, Jones put his shoulder down and ran over the 6-foot-1, 215-pound safety to earn a 29-yard gain and a roar of approval from the fans at Roberts Stadium.
As he packs on more muscle entering his senior year, there could be more moments like that on the way for the junior receiver.
“I tell everybody that I can run somebody over at anytime,” the Biloxi native said last week.
Jones, who lines up in the slot, ranked second on the team last season with 42 catches for 508 yards and one touchdown. Watkins was the go-to man for the USM passing game last year with 72 catches for 889 yards and nine touchdowns, but he gives credit to Jones for helping pave the way for a good chunk of that yardage.
“That’s the body guard, man,” Watkins said of Jones. “He’s all muscle.”
“Whenever (Watkins) needed a screen, he’d look at me and I’d tell him I’d take care of it,” Jones said. “No matter if I had the corner or whoever, I was blocking for him.”
Jones was considered a man among boys during his prep career at Biloxi, catching 100 passes for 1,364 yards and 15 touchdowns as just as sophomore. He easily pushed around defensive backs in high school, but he knew he’d have to get stronger in college after switching from playing out wide to lining up in the slot.
Entering his junior season, Jones checks in at 6-foot-1, 213 pounds. That’s a 20-pound gain since he first signed with USM in 2017.
Jones, who has a bench press of 325 pounds, saw more than a 100-pound improvement in his squat this summer — jumping from 455 a year ago to 560.
“He’s jacked. He’s ripped,” USM sophomore quarterback Tate Whatley said. “It’s crazy.”
As he makes his way through fall camp, Jones has noticed his hard work in the weightroom paying off.
“I noticed I’ve gotten stronger,” he said. “I’ve been blocking some people in practice. People always joke with me about going to tight end, but I’m not playing tight end.”
While Jones’ power is evident from his highlight reel, he offers good speed out of the slot and hands that are arguably the best on the team.
“He’s an animal,” Whatley said. “One thing about Tim is his routes are always crisp. He always knows what to do versus a nickel or defensive back. He knows how move them and stick them, get them outside his feet. He’s just very smart with his routes and always comes down with the ball.”
While Jones is as refined as they come for a junior receiver, there’s one area where he’s determined to make progress — getting in the end zone.
“I’ve got to focus on scoring the ball,” he said. “Last year was solid, but it wasn’t enough for me. I had one touchdown. I also had a couple of drops and I’ve got to do a better job of reading the defense.”
While Watkins, Jones and redshirt senior Jordan Mitchell are on pace to receive plenty of targets this season, there are several other receivers who are capable of running with the first string. Redshirt sophomore Jaylond Adams, senior Trevor Terry, senior Neil McLaurin and senior De’Michael Harris are all in the hunt for snaps this year.
“We can roll those guys in,” USM head coach Jay Hopson said. “That’s a talented bunch. It’s a good thing for a quarterback to have.”