They call him “Debo.”
He walks around the LSU football operations building with a smile, a bag of sunflower seeds and a spit cup.
Deion Jones seems harmless. But that’s just a façade.
“I’d hate to have to block him,” linebacker D.J. Welter said.
Jones, a junior linebacker from New Orleans, has developed a reputation during his first two seasons with the Tigers as the mainstay on a group that’s often overshadowed: special teams.
He’s the special teams’ not-so-secret weapon, a hard-hitting, helmet-crunching speedster who often morphs into a ball-seeking magnet on units like kickoff and punt coverage – “Attack,” players call the two teams.
Jones expects to be on every special teams unit this season, a declaration another reserve linebacker, Kendell Beckwith, can also make.
“Got to play on special teams,” a smiling Beckwith said.
Specials teams at LSU is the exclusive club. Instead of golf course privileges and spa days, this club offers the opportunity to hit people at full speed.
Welter is asked if he’s on kickoff coverage.
“Nah,” the senior said with a somewhat disappointing glare. “I’m on second-string kickoff.”
Membership is limited.
The group has a new leader for the first time in three years. Bradley Dale Peveto replaced Thomas McGaughey as special teams coordinator. A charismatic, talkative and joking guy, Peveto is instilling his country charm to his special teams units.
He’s installing some other things, too. What are they exactly?
“Y’all got to wait and see,” Jones said with a smile.
Peveto takes over a group that has soared in at least one aspect over the previous four seasons. LSU hasn’t finished worse than 11th nationally in punt coverage over that time and was as high as No. 4 in 2011.
Kickoff coverage last season fell steeply. Opponents averaged 23 yards a kick return last year (99th) as opposed to 18 (eighth) in 2012.
The Tigers will have a new kickoff specialist this season for the first time since 2010. James Hairston transferred to Rice with the hopes of kicking field goals.
Colby Delahoussaye, 13-of-14 on field goals a year ago, has that position secured. Delahoussaye is also listed as the kickoff specialist and has been practicing kickoffs in practice, but he suffered from a groin injury last year and seems to be resting some this fall.
Trent Domingue and freshman Cameron Gambles are kicking off, too. It’s an important position that garners little spotlight: Who will be kicking off? LSU was 12th nationally in kickoffs last season.
There’s another important special teams piece gone: return man Odell Beckham Jr.
A bevy of freshmen are competing at kick and punt return, including Jamal Adams (both), Leonard Fournette (kick), Malachi Dupre (punt) and Trey Quinn (both).
Receivers Avery Peterson (both) and Travin Dural (both), running back Terrence Magee (kick) and cornerback Tre’Davious White (punt) are also in the mix.
This means that, arguably, LSU’s top two running backs and top three receivers could return kicks. That’s a tiring job for a starter right?
“The way we look at it is we can run all day,” Dural said.
No one passes on a chance to join the exclusive club, especially not the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Jones.
His dad gave him the nickname “Debo.” It’s a combination of his father’s two favorite football players, Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson.
The name has stuck. Like his hard hits on special teams, it shows no signs of fading.
Said Welter: “He just looks like a Debo.”