By RON HIGGINS, Journal Sports
BATON ROUGE — It was just about a year ago, four days before LSU opened its SEC schedule against Mississippi State in Tiger Stadium, when LSU’s then-freshman offensive tackle Emery Jones Jr. was told he was getting his first college start.
No, he doesn’t expect a cake this weekend to mark the one-year anniversary. He’d rather hold his own pancake party, flattening Bulldogs’ defenders Saturday at 11 a.m. in Starkville, when 14th-ranked LSU (1-1) and MSU (1-0) begin the eight-game league schedule.
“It’s bringing back a whole bunch of memories,” said Jones, who has started 14 straight games at right tackle. “I know where I was last year and I know where I’m at now. It makes me feel proud how much I’ve improved and just got to keep my head down to keep improving.”
LSU started Cam Wire in last season’s opening loss to Florida State, then replaced him with Anthony Bradford to open game two against Southern.
But it was a play Jones made late in the third quarter against Southern, when the Tigers were leading 58-0, that may have convinced LSU head coach Brian Kelly and offensive line coach Brad Davis he should start.
On first and goal at the Southern 8, backup quarterback Garrett Nussmeier handed off to running back Noah Cain, who plunged up the middle. The 6-6, 335-pound Jones locked in on a block against an SU defensive end.
He drove the defender on an angle all the way to the front right goal line pylon and pancaked him on top of it.
“When I got that chance to finally get in the game to show what I’ve got, I knew I was liable to kill somebody,” Jones recalled of that play. “I just wanted to get in the game and be nasty.
When Jones Jr. joined left offensive tackle Will Campbell in the starting lineup, they became the first true freshmen combo to start in almost 40 years.
Campbell, a four-year starter for Monroe Neville, enrolled in LSU in January 2022. He was the No. 1 ranked offensive lineman in the state and was the nation’s No. 4 overall prospect by ESPN.
Jones, a two-time Class 5A All-State honoree from Baton Rouge Catholic that won the 2021 Division 1 state title, didn’t arrive at LSU until the summer.
Acquaintances through recruiting, they became fast friends, suddenly thrown in the same boat.
Through last season’s trials and tribulations – Campbell was a first-team freshman All-American and Jones earned third-team status – they now live together.
“When we were getting recruited, we started building that bond,” Jones said of Campbell. “Now, it’s like having another brother from another mother.
Last season in their first start together in LSU’s 31-16 win over Mississippi State, Pro Football Focus graded Campbell and Jones as No. 1 and No. 4 in pass protection among SEC offensive tackles for that weekend. They played a combined 98 total pass block snaps vs. MSU and allowed zero pressures.
“I locked in (that week after being named starter),” Jones said. “I was a young guy who had to try to do everything right. I wasn’t perfect, but I feel like I did a great job staying on the little details.”
Jones certainly earned Kelly’s trust. He played 886 offensive snaps last season, including every snap of all nine SEC games including the league championship battle against eventual national champion Georgia.
“It starts with how he handles himself away from the field,” Kelly said last spring. “He makes good choices, good decisions. He’s never on a list. When I say on a list, he’s never on an academic report, he’s never on a list relative to being late to anything. He’s reliable.”
Jones said he remembered being nervous prior to his first start. He called his mother at 11 a.m. the night before playing Mississippi State.
“She’s got this saying called `Jones Proud’,” Jones said. “She said, `Jones Proud. Make them know your name.’ She would always send me a text before a game that said, `Good luck. I love you. #Jones Proud.’
“This year, I started wearing Jones Proud across my nose every game. I just wanted to showcase it. I feel it gives me a boost.
“Since my Dad passed, I feel like I’m carrying his name since I’m a Junior. I’m just trying to make him proud and my family proud.”
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