LAFAYETTE — In order to get back on the field, junior defensive back Dominick Jones had to drop the fight and embrace change.
Jones had been a cornerback since he’d been a football player. The skills to play the position intertwined through his athletic DNA. He wasn’t particularly interested in trying out a similar but different position.
“They kept wanting me to move to safety, and I fought that for a while because I’ve been playing cornerback my whole life,” Jones said.
But Jones reconsidered. His path to seeing the field at corner was obstructed by both returning players and newcomers who’d vaulted ahead of him on the depth chart. He decided he’d give safety a try.
“And I actually liked it,” Jones said.
So far, the move is paying dividends for a Cajuns secondary that’s been hit hard by injury and, at times, subpar performance.
Though he didn’t play in the first three games, Jones has responded with three of his best games in a Cajuns uniform while playing in virtually every other position besides cornerback in the secondary.
In his past three games, Jones has racked up 11 tackles, 4.5 of them coming for loss and two coming on sacks, while also breaking up a pass attempt.
“He’s always around the ball,” senior corner Jevante Watson said.
The Cajuns, for their part, have worked to put him in position where he can make plays.
While he’s currently listed on the depth chart as the starter at nickel back, Jones is also listed as the backup to safety Tracy Walker and coach Mark Hudspeth said he also works out at his old corner position.
“He can pick it all up,” Hudspeth said. “He’s one of those guys that’s very cerebral, can kind of understand it all. He’s very valuable because he can play them all.”
Jones has also provided a lift in coverage at a nickel position that was consistently burned downfield early in the season, while filling in at safety when both T.J. Worthy and Travis Crawford were unavailable last week against Arkansas State.
“It’s really exciting being all over the field,” Jones said. “I like nickel mostly, but I’ll be wherever they need me to be. This is exciting, playing all these snaps, and it’s going by fast. It makes me realize that I’ve got to play each game, just have fun each game, and I am.
“I’ve got to have fun with it while I’m doing it.”
That perspective came because he knows how quickly those snaps can disappear.
Jones won a camp battle last season and started at cornerback for the Cajuns’ first three games of last season. Those would be his last three starts of the season, however.
With opposing quarterbacks often picking on Jones, the Cajuns were lit up through the air in Jones’ last two starts, with Ole Miss and Louisiana Tech combining to throw for 635 yards and six touchdowns in a pair of blowout losses.
The big numbers prompted a change in the secondary, and it was Jones who tumbled down the depth chart. While he made it in every game for the remainder of the season, he played sparingly. The only proof he played at all were three tackles he made in the final 10 games.
“It was kind of rough,” Jones said.
A sophomore season that began with promise appeared to end on a months-long sour note, but Jones said he kept plugging away.
Just because he missed his opportunity didn’t mean it was going to be the last one he’d get.
“I knew my time was going to come, because I believed in my work ethic and I knew that I was going to have an opportunity to start and play my best,” Jones said. “I never questioned why I wasn’t playing.”
That much was noticed by Hudspeth, who called Jones the “definition of a team player.”
“I wish we had more like Dom Jones,” Hudspeth said. “This guy comes to work every day with a great attitude, he’s a leader, he has the respect of all his teammates and coaches. That’s why he continues to find a role on this team.”