When Southern wide receiver Mike Jones catches touchdown passes, they tend to come in groups.
Jones showed off that habit, as well as his knack for big gainers once again in the Jaguars scrimmage Saturday. On the first play, he caught a 99-yard touchdown pass from Austin Howard. He later caught a 5-yard scoring pass from Deonte Shorts, and, in between, he and Howard teamed for a 45-yard pass that set up another score.
That performance was reminiscent of games Jones has had each of his two seasons.
In last season’s Bayou Classic, he caught three passes for 130 yards, including touchdowns of 45 and 55 yards as Southern won 52-45 to win its second consecutive Southwestern Athletic Conference West division title.
Two years ago in a 31-28 victory at Alabama State, Jones caught five passes for 211 yards and three touchdowns. The scoring plays covered 68, 74 and 13 yards.
“He’s a speedster, and you can’t coach speed,” wide receiver Nico Talbert said. “Mike Jones can stretch the field. He can take you deep any time. Once he gets past you, it’s pretty hard to catch up with him.”
Jones came to the Jaguars’ track team as a sprinter from Bryan, Texas, and he has obviously put that training to good use on the football field. Jones averaged a team-best 26.6 yards per catch two years ago and his 19.1 average last season was tops among Jaguars with more than two receptions.
“If it’s a foot race, you’re not getting him,” cornerback Danny Johnson said.
Talbert learned firsthand just how fast Jones is.
“When I first got here, everybody was saying he’s the fastest kid on the team,” Talbert said. “So we lined up one time and we were doing 110s or something and he got out in front of me and I was like, yeah he’s a track guy all right.”
But track guys don’t always make the transition to football as successfully as Jones has. His speed won’t do him any good if he can’t fight his way off the line of scrimmage or catch the football.
“Me and Mike go against each other every day in practice,” Johnson said. “If you don’t get your hands on him, you can’t slow him down and he’s gone. It’s hard to cover him.”
Jones’ breakout game against Alabama State two years ago came when he hooked up with then-senior quarterback Dray Joseph. But last season it took until the last game of the regular season for him to have a similar game with Howard, who was then a freshman.
The two touchdown catches against Grambling were the only ones Jones had last season when he missed two games and was slowed during the middle of the season because of an ankle injury and finished with 16 catches for 305 yards.
“As a freshman last year, everyone was talking about his speed and I hadn’t really seen it until the Bayou Classic when I laid it out there and he went and got it,” Howard said. “That carried over from last year.”
Jones said his connection with Howard got stronger during summer workouts and through preseason camp.
“We’ve been working on it all summer and it’s gotten pretty natural,” Jones said. “He puts it out there and I go get it.”
Howard has a half-dozen dependable receivers, including others besides Jones who can get open and catch the deep ball, but none who can quite match Jones’ flat-out speed.
“Every day before practice he comes to me and says just put it out there and you know I’m going to go get it,” Howard said. “Those are the little things that he says that I just put in my head, and it’s always in the back of my head when we’re on the field. I just interpret that and bring it on the field.”
Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.