MANHATTAN — Judah Jones was angry when Kansas State football coaches suggested he spend his first year on the sideline with a redshirt. He was also upset when they asked him to play both running back and receiver during spring practices.
Those negative emotions disappeared after a strong showing at K-State’s spring game on Saturday.
Jones was a breakout performer for the white team, compiled of backups, catching two passes for 58 yards and a touchdown while also turning six carries into nine yards against K-State’s starting defense.
“It’s funny how things work out,” Jones said. “I can’t say I was all for those things at first, but, you know what, I’m not the coach. These coaches have been doing this for years. They obviously know what they want on the field. So I just did what they told me.”
Jones was a three-star receiver when he signed with K-State in 2012 out of Shreveport, La. But he has the look of a dual-threat athlete. That’s why coaches informed him halfway through spring practices that they wanted him to get some repetitions in at running back as well as receiver.
He said it was the first time he played running back since elementary school, so he will need more practice before he starts piling up rushing yards. But he doesn’t look new to the backfield.
“When you get that opportunity to play running back you take it,” Jones said. “There are four people who touch the ball at wide receiver and one or two guys who touch the ball at running back. You are going to get the ball a lot more at running back. You might take a few hard hits, but it is fun.”
His best run came on a five-year gain in which he bounced to the outside and took on two defenders head on and picked up a first down before getting forced out of bounds.
That, coincidentally, was his favorite moment of the game.
“I got a little opportunity to get physical,” Jones said. “That felt good for me, because it is always good. I don’t mind getting hit. It is always good to get that opportunity to put your shoulder down and just hit somebody. That was honestly the highlight of my day, because it felt like I was moving. I’ve got a little bit of running back in me.”
Of course, catching a 51-yard touchdown in the second half was a nice moment, too. On that play, Jones lined up on the left side and beat two defensive backs on a post route for an easy grab from Joe Hubener.
Add it all up and Jones was the surprise player of K-State’s spring game.
There is one of those every year, and there is no telling what that means for Jones when the regular season arrives in late August. Big efforts in a spring scrimmage don’t always translate into sustained success. Still, it was encouraging to see a redshirt freshman show off his playmaking skills against the starting defense.
“Judah is a very versatile player,” senior center B.J. Finney said. “He is very quick, he is very agile and he can be explosive. They have been moving him around, trying to find where he best fits and where he can best help the team. Judah is working diligently at every position they put him at. As long as he keeps improving, he can do great things for us.”
Jones appears to have a big hill to climb before he cracks the playing rotation at running back or receiver. Charles Jones had 73 yards on 20 carries with the purple team, made up of starters, and Jarvis Leverett had 69 yards on 14 carries with the white team.
K-State football coach Bill Snyder refused to name a favorite heading into the fall. Incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack and senior DeMarcus Robinson, if he can get healthy, should also compete for carries next season.
At receiver, Jones is likely looking up at Tyler Lockett, Curry Sexton, Deante Burton and Kyle Klein. Daniel Sams also played on the purple team. But Jones did catch the only touchdown pass of the day.
“Everybody has an opportunity to move up and down the depth chart,” Snyder said. “It works on a daily basis like that … I was pleased with the way a number of young guys were playing on the white unit. And, based on what I had seen without seeing the film, there were some guys on the white unit that probably stood a decent chance of moving up.”
Jones could be one of them.
“The whites are playing against the ones. That says if a person on the white team scores on the purple team, then you know he can play a little bit of football,” Jones said. “That just means there is an opportunity for me to move up a little bit and get more of a look.”