By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa linebacker Amani Jones wasn’t available for comment on Wednesday, but his position coach had plenty to say about him.
Iowa linebacker coach Seth Wallace was among four staff members who were made available to the media, and he was asked to comment on Jones’ unusual junior season.
It has been unusual because it’s not often that a player loses his starting position in the first quarter of a season opener, but that is what happened to Jones this season.
The Chicago native struggled against Northern Illinois badly enough in the season opener to where he was benched in favor of senior Jack Hockaday in the first quarter.
The same player who had been the talk of spring practice as the hard-hitting replacement for Josey Jewell at middle linebacker didn’t even make it through one quarter as the starter.
It had to have been devastating for Jones to have worked for so long to achieve something, only to have it taken away in a matter of minutes.
Jones could have become a distraction, or he could’ve bailed on his team, as so many college players do these days when things don’t go their way.
But instead, he has stayed the course while putting the team’s needs before his own.
Instead of pouting or taking his foot off the gas, Jones has been a force on special teams and a good teammate throughout the season.
And that deserves praise and respect.
“The situation, obviously, was not ideal, not necessarily something that we predicted, either,” Wallace said Wednesday. “But it was something that we had to go through and something I had to go through from a coaching standpoint. It was very hard because Amani is one of our hardest workers. He’s a Hawkeye through and through.
“And I would say the one thing to speak of his character is the way that he did handle it. He was still an exceptional special team’s player for us. He was unbelievable on the sidelines, very supportive of his teammates, even after he lost that starting role. So I tip my hat to him and what he has done. And if we can keep pushing and moving forward, don’t be surprised if he’s back in there.”
Wallace said there was some concern at first about how Jones would react to such a sudden demotion.
“I think the nature of coaching is anytime something like that happens, or you have a kid that gets injured and he doesn’t ever get back in the starting lineup, like how is he going to handle it?” Wallace said. “In Amani’s case, he was starting for us game one and all the way through fall camp and then you wind up pulling him in whatever it was, the second series. You get a little bit nervous. But he is through and through one of the best teammates on the team.
“And he saw it as an opportunity to find a different role, and he took advantage of that special-teams wise.”
The importance of that can’t be understated, because sometimes, it only takes one or two disgruntled players to ruin a team’s chemistry and focus.
Iowa failed to win some close games this season, but it wasn’t from a lack of chemistry or focus.
The current team is filled with high-character guys and character shines in different ways.
Jones has shown his character by handling a personal setback with class and grace.
It is the kind of experience that Jones will benefit from later in life because handling personal setbacks is certainly part of the journey.
But later in life can wait with Jones still have one season of eligibility remaining, and with Hockaday graduating after this season, which will end on New Year's Day against Mississippi State in the Outback Bowl. Jones will have another shot at being the starter this coming spring and next season.
But whether he starts or not won’t define Amani Jones’ legacy at Iowa, because as he has shown this season, his legacy goes way beyond who sits on top of the depth chart.