Gophers freshman Donovahn Jones passed up five SEC scholarship offers and ventured from his home state of Georgia to Minnesota largely because of the chance to play quarterback. Now that he’s a wide receiver, he still thinks he made the right decision.
Jones was a standout quarterback for Dutchtown High School in suburban Atlanta and had offers from Missouri, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Kentucky. They all wanted him to play wide receiver.
The Gophers promised him a shot at quarterback, and it wasn’t bait-and-switch ploy. Jones had built strong relationships with Minnesota’s coaches and knew they might quickly make him a receiver, too.
“They were honest the whole time,” he said.
Jones played quarterback for a few weeks during preseason camp before moving to receiver. Though he has a strong throwing arm, Jones quickly realized how refined the other Gophers quarterbacks — Philip Nelson, Mitch Leidner and Chris Streveler — were as passers.
So Jones said the coaches didn’t need to convince him to move to receiver. That was his preference, too.
Through eight games, Jones has played a limited role in the passing attack, with just one catch for 7 yards. But the Gophers got him more involved in last week’s victory over Nebraska, giving him four rushes on a play known as the jet sweep.
“That’s my favorite play in the whole playbook,” Jones said.
On the jet sweep, Jones lines up at receiver and goes in motion toward the quarterback, who either hands it to him, gives it to the running back or looks to pass.
On Jones’ first three carries he rushed for 13, 11 and 20 yards before Nebraska finally made an adjustment and tackled him for a 2-yard loss.
“We want to get Donovahn involved because he’s a guy who can turn a 20-yard play into an 80-yard touchdown,” Nelson said. “We’ve seen it in practice, and now it’s just a matter of doing it in the games. He’s getting closer and closer every week.”
Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover admits he and the other coaches might have expected too much too soon from Jones.
“I think sometimes when you have a really good athlete, we as coaches try to speed that process up,” Limegrover said. “You almost have to take a step back. He’s a freshman, so even the littlest things are new to him, especially after switching positions.”
Limegrover said he could see Jones “kind of hit a wall,” earlier in the season, trying to digest the things he was learning. So instead of trying to get Jones on the field for 60 plays per game, the Gophers are picking their spots.
“It’s amazing what that has done for his confidence,” Limegrover said. “He’s out there blocking now. He’s jumped into it. He’s made some big catches in practices.”
Jones doesn’t view his switch to wide receiver as temporary. He’s calling it “a permanent move.”
“I don’t want to keep moving around,” he said. “Then I’ll have to wait to learn more plays. So now that I’m here [at receiver], and I’m settled, that’s where I’d like to stay.”
Jones originally committed to Missouri before flipping to Minnesota one day before national signing day in February. For Jones it was a chance to come play for Gophers running back coach Brian Anderson, a close friend of Jones’ father’s from Rockford, Ill., where they both grew up.
Missouri has been one of college football’s biggest surprises this season. The Tigers were ranked No. 5 before losing a heartbreaker last week against South Carolina. Watching Missouri’s success from afar, Jones said he still has no regrets.
“I wouldn’t go back to change anything,” he said. “I’m proud of where I am now.”