August 11, 2017 11:12:53 AM
Brett Hudson - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Unlike most incoming freshmen to college football programs, Dontea Jones made a move for his senior year of high school.
The transition for Jones, who was born in Starkville, was designed to help the standout at Louisville High School better prepare for the next level. But the plan changed when Jones arrived at Jireh Preparatory Academy in Matthews, North Carolina.
"He came in bigger than we were expecting, so we moved him from wide receiver to the tight end/H-Back role, and he adjusted to that really well," said Ryan Williams, who coached Jones at Jireh Prep. "He's got long arms and the physical tools to block inside and on the perimeter."
Williams said he watched Jones run down the seam at 290 pounds and knew how to utilize him in the team's offense. In addition to a big body, Jones brought with him the ability to be a consistent contributor in the passing game.
Jones still has that ability after spending the 2016 season as a redshirt at Mississippi State. Listed at 254 pounds last season, he said in the spring he was down to 235 and hoped to add five to 10 pounds of muscle during the summer. The new body has turned Jones into a different weapon MSU hopes quarterback Nick Fitzgerald can use to add another dimension to the attack.
Williams believes a lighter Jones will be even more dangerous.
"I can't wait to see what he can do now that he's lost some weight," Williams said.
Jones was a consensus three-star recruit by 247Sports.com, Rivals.com, and ESPN.com. Coached by M.C. Miller at Louisville, Jones had 43 catches for 774 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior and 45 catches for 714 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore.
Those skills and a new body give Jones the confidence he will be able to make an impact in the Southeastern Conference. He feels his new physique will be needed because "you've got some linebackers out here that are really defensive backs."
Jones could have rejected the position change. Three years later, though, he is more dedicated to it than ever, a fact that doesn't surprise Williams.
"He could've used this as a stepping stone, but he really bought into the culture we have here," he said. "He loves (football). He really works at it."
The dedication carried over to Jones' redshirt year. A shoulder injury prompted the idea to redshirt Jones. Once that became a reality, Jones decided to take care of his body, to get his shoulder 100 percent healthy, and to get stronger. He's confident he accomplished all three.
"I'm a smarter player, faster," Jones said. "It's going to turn me into a great player in the long run. If I can learn everything, learn to read the defense, it's going to turn me into a great player."
Jones also used his redshirt season to watch Farrod Green, who led all tight ends with 11 catches for 121 yards and a touchdown last season.
Jones' physical transformation comes with impeccable timing. MSU coach Dan Mullen has talked multiple times about using tight ends more in the offense and doing it in different ways, such as moving them to the slot to pose as wide receivers. After losing weight and working through a grueling summer, Jones is as prepared to do what Mullen needs.
"Our offseason program was rough, but it made us into a better team and better players," he said. "We got way stronger than we were last season."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson