Jones breathes life into U’s punt killers

by David La

The Gophers’ Delvin Jones, who is best known for his standout play on the punt blocking unit — a group he has dubbed the “Punt Killers” — has been one of the steady performers on a defense that has looked very solid this season.
The sophomore free safety’s arrival at the top of the depth chart has been the result of keeping his head up and making the most of his opportunities.
Recruited out of Northwestern High School in Miami, Fla., Jones said he was influenced by former high school and current Minnesota teammate Luke Leverson to make the trip north.
But even the ties to his friend and the chance to play for the Gophers didn’t make the decision a no-brainer. After all, Minnesota was nowhere near the level of an elite football school. It was James Jones, Delvin’s father, who convinced his son that any opportunity can have its upside.
“My dad was telling me that, ‘Hey you’re going to Minnesota, but you have to look at it as you’re playing in the Big Ten, you’re playing against a lot of the top teams,'” Jones said. “So if scouts come to the game and I have a good game, they might say ‘That Jones kid is pretty good.'”
If Gophers coaches thought the same of Jones after last season, it might be because of the game he had against Indiana.
Called the morning of the game by defensive coordinator David Gibbs and told he would start, Jones went into the Indiana game ready to turn some heads. He did so by banging the heads of the Hoosiers players. He ended up with six tackles, five solo.
“I wanted to step it up and show the coaches that I can play and I can be counted on as the starting free safety next year,” Jones said.
The new year has arrived, Jones is starting in the secondary and his play has garnered favorable reviews so far.
“Delvin Jones has been a very pleasant surprise with his play at free safety,” coach Glen Mason said. “He’s playing better than I anticipated.”
Through the first two games of this season, Jones is fourth on the team in total tackles with 12 — including 10 solo — and has recovered a fumble.
But Jones hasn’t forsaken his punt-rush duties. In the season opener against Ohio, Jones blocked a punt that went out of the end zone for a safety. He may moonlight at safety, but Jones remains the ringleader of the Punt Killers.
“I think it creates enthusiasm,” coach Mark Snyder said of the moniker. “Everybody on the team wants to be on the unit, and only the best is going to be on the unit. Once you get that kind of thing going, you get a chance to have something special.”
The patriarch of the Punt Killers family, Jones described how to put the heat on a punter without getting burned by a costly penalty for making contact with the kicker.
“It’s all in the angle that you take,” Jones said of his pursuit of a block. “You take an angle that if you do lay out, you will go past him. You don’t run straight into the punter.”
In keeping with his punt rush procedure, Jones hasn’t run smack into his role as starting free safety. He looked for his opportunity and took his angle to his goal.
Now he just needs to work on a nickname for his new mates on the defense.

David La Vaque covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]