AMES — Every day at the crack of dawn, Jay Jones smoothed out any imperfections by hand, then pulled the four corners of fabric taut.
His remade bed at Georgia Military College essentially became a springboard.
Then, he tested his handiwork.
“No wrinkles and pop the quarter,” said Jones, who’s in to popping other things — mainly opposing players — as a first-year Iowa State nickel back. “It was called ‘pop the quarter.’”
Jones’s one-year foray into military school allowed him to remake himself, too. The 6-3, 209-pound playmaker sought discipline in the form of salutes; a steady diet of, “Yes, sirs” and, ‘Yes, ma’ms.’”
“Great addition to our football team,” Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads said of Jones.
The regimented routine led to a more consciously examined life — and entering Saturday’s 7 p.m. road game at Toledo (7 p.m., ESPNews), Jones continues to approach personal growth one quarter at a time.
“It definitely changed me for the better and it opened up my eyes,” said Jones, who is tied for the team lead in tackles (17) and ranks second in stops for loss (4) and sacks (2). “You do nothing but get older. Time keeps moving. You have to make the best decision for now and really believe in your decision.”
Georgia Military College contributed to the junior’s mature mindset.
Jones voluntarily told reporters that one factor in leaving North Carolina State after two seasons stemmed from being charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana.
The controlled substance was found in “a general area” in an apartment he shared with friends. The charges didn’t stick, he said. He tested negative for THC. Nonetheless, he felt a change in scenery was required — especially since the Wolfpack program faced a head coaching change.
“I was young,” he said. “I was immature. I’ve grown up.”
More proof: Jones took full ownership of his shortcomings in last week’s 31-17 loss to Iowa. He pointed out the flaws to Rhoads the following day.
“I already knew what the mistakes where,” Rhoads said. “But I feel good that me pointed them out, too.”
Jones said the most glaring mistake came when Iowa tied the score at 17-all. He found himself out of position as tight end Henry Krieger-Coble caught a pass and lumbered to the ISU three-yard line before cornerback Brian Peavy forced a fumble. The football popped right into the hands of Iowa wide receiver Matt VandeBerg, who strode into the end zone to ignite a 21-0 second-half performance.
“I got overly aggressive,” Jones said when self-assigning blame for the big play.
In a way, Jones’s love for the sellout crowd at Jack Trice Stadium contributed to that over-aggressiveness. Jones wanted to be the one to make that play in front of the fans. Not one of 11, but the one.
“That play right there, it may not have looked like my fault but it was definitely my fault,” he said.
Consider it a lesson learned. In trying to do too much, Jones was unable to do anything at all.
“You have 11 guys out there and they’re all competitors,” he said. “We’re here for a reason. We want to do everything. We believe we can do everything. But football is not meant for you to do everything. It’s meant for you to do your assignment.”
Jones expects the level of trust to spike team-wide as the Cyclones take to the road for the first time in 2015. ISU (1-1) hasn’t lost a non conference road game since being flattened by Iowa in 2011. The Rockets (1-0) are coming off a 16-12 shocker at Arkansas and feature what Rhoads reckons to be future NFLers at quarterback (Phillip Ely) and running back (Kareem Hunt).
“It’s a huge challenge for our football team,” Rhoads summed up.
But it’s one that better be met — as 7.5 underdogs and with another daunting Big 12 slate on the horizon.
“Each week it’s going to get harder for us and we understand that,” Jones said. “We’re accepting that challenge. This week it’s going to be moreso the test of the real brotherhood. It’s easy to have that camaraderie when you’re at home and you know the whole crowd is cardinal and gold, it’s easy to have that. But when you’re on the road and it’s more fans for the opposing team, that’s when you have to look to the left and right of you and understand that these are my brothers. These are my coaches. And just be one.”