SDSU left tackle Christian Jones is in the spotlight
Generally speaking, offensive linemen like to stay out of the public spotlight. Even when celebrating a touchdown, they tend to play second fiddle to the skill-position players.
Too often in 2022, the play of SDSU’s front brought unwanted attention. Last season’s starting right tackle, Josh Simmons, whose signing this week with Ohio State shows his NFL potential, was not particularly effective last year. He may have flown under the radar more, except for an excessive amount of procedure penalties.
Due in large part to the subpar play of the group, SDSU’s offensive line enters 2023 with all eyes fixed upon it.
“I’m really excited for it,” left tackle Christian Jones explained on Episode 68 of The SDSU Football Podcast when asked about the opportunity to right what went wrong for the line. “This is the perfect opportunity to rise to the occasion. Our unit as a whole, coaches and players alike, aren’t satisfied with what happened last year, and we’re just going to keep moving forward. I’m looking forward to fitting into that puzzle, owning my position, and doing my best to rise to the occasion and put out for my teammates and brothers on the line.”
Following a spring camp that vaulted him to the top of the depth chart at left tackle, the gaze of Aztec Nation has fallen upon Jones in particular. At 6 foot 9, he is hard to miss even when he is doing his best to remain inconspicuous.
While making his exit from the field following the 2021 Frisco Bowl, a few of his friends among the athletic training staff were struggling to move a heavy cart off the sidelines. Needing aid, they knew who to call. Even by the end of only his first season on campus, Jones had an outstanding reputation inside the Aztecs’ locker room.
After supporting the staff in packing up following the season’s final game, Jones retired to the locker room, thinking nothing of what he had just done. When he opened social media, his act of kindness had gone viral. Division, I athletes do not usually clean up after themselves. The sight of his hulking frame lending a helping hand captivated the nation.
“Honestly, it comes first from my faith in God,” Jones explained on why service is important to him. “I’m a Christian by faith, and I appreciate Jesus Christ for what he’s done in my life … every time there’s a (social media) post, I’m not trying to find the spotlight, but I just happen to get noticed. It really just comes from me wanting to help out; do my best.”
Jones arrived at SDSU as a lightly recruited prospect. He weighed 365 pounds at his first official weigh-in. Outside of the limelight, he reworked his frame and played backup guard as a redshirt freshman. His character, though, once again brought him the attention he was not seeking.
Before the Hawaii Bowl in December, a group of Aztecs visited the Kapi’olani Medical Center. Kapi’olani was founded in 1890 by the Queen of Hawai’i to care for mothers and infants. It has grown into a world-class institution. Jones and his teammates spent time with children suffering from various illnesses and helped brighten their day.
“It was a good experience being able to just help them out, bring a smile to their faces,” Jones said. “Those kids were so excited to see us, and they don’t even know us. They were so overjoyed to see us. It was cool handing out toys. It also made me appreciate my blessings in life. These kids do have it worse than me. They do need help with a lot of things, health-wise.”
Like many SDSU players before him, Jones has defied expectations since arriving on campus. Sitting first on a depth chart as a redshirt sophomore makes him a professional prospect. He got there by trimming 50 pounds while adding strength and unlocking speed that is unnatural for his size. His elevated status has not gone to his head.
In March, he read Bear Come Home to elementary school students at Sycamore Canyon School. A month later, along with twenty or so Aztecs, he participated in the Associated Student’s Good Neighbor Clean Up.
Armed with trash bags, gloves, and trash pickers, the players roamed the campus just like any other student. Jones said the event helped move the team outside of their bubble and show the entire student body is unified in making SDSU a better place.
“I definitely have a lot of teammates just like me that step forward,” Jones said deflecting credit for his efforts. “Dom Oliver is a great example. He’s always helping out the community. Darius De Los Reyes is another one. Those are only two names out of so many guys that I know that will gladly step up to the plate, whether it’s cleaning or doing stuff for the community. I just happen to get noticed.”
Any young person bent towards service and helping others should be celebrated, but in a competitive,e game like football where nice guys usually finish last, kindness can be seen as a weakness. Jones, though, has developed a mean streak on the field. He models his attitude on the gridiron after former teammate and current Pittsburgh Steeler Billy Dunkle.
SDSU hopes his tenacity and work ethic, that has allowed him to compete with and surpass more veteran players, continues to propel him in his career. There is a lot to like about his game.
Players his size are usually playing basketball. His long arms are a weapon. Against quicker players, his punch, delivered from a distance, can throw his opponent off their desired path. When matched up with more physical defenders, his length affords him a greater ability to keep the opposition n away from his body preventing them from using their strength to push him off-balance.
While the angles Jones deals with to navigate his job at left tackle are unique to someone his height, the same is true for athletes lined up against him. Defensive linemen have honed their skills on short players, and competing against Jones will be a new experience for them.
“As I’ve gotten more experience, I’ve learned to appreciate my length more,” Jones said. “I’ve definitely seen challenges naturally (with) just pad level. (The defender’s) pad is always below me, no matter what, at the snap of the ball. That’s posed the biggest problem for me…But, as I continue to learn the game, I have a great advantage with my arm length. I just want to work on building my consistency … there is some difficulty with leverage, but the positives outweigh the negatives for sure.”
Jones may be tall in stature, but he is short on experience. He played only four snaps on offense last year. He is working to mitigate the learning curve by studying various NFL players. SDSU’s offensive line coach Mike Goff aided Jones’ development in a unique way. Goff moved Jones from tackle to guard in 2022.
This allowed Jones to understand the perspective of the players around him. It fast-forwarded his acquisition of the nuance of the position. By playing guard, he understands how double-teams or passing off blockers work in greater detail than he would if he had only played tackle.
There is a long way between early May and the start of the season. Jones might be listed first at left tackle, but there is no guarantee he keeps that spot. SDSU is active in the transfer portal looking to add players to the position. The competition internally continues as well. Jones says he aims to get stronger and faster while taking advantage of every opportunity to get better this offseason.
“Brandon (Crenshaw-Dickson) has been a good influence,” Jones said. “It’s interesting because we’re competing for spots, but at the same time, he’s also been a big help in helping with say, getting my foot placement down, my hand placement down. I feel like that makes a good dynamic bcause it reminds me, we are competing, but he also is a brother on the team. He’s definitely been a good help in my development, but also (we’re) always pushing each other, trying to get better.”
His work between now and when SDSU hosts Ohio on August 26 will mostly be done in private, away from the public eye. This reality should not disguise the truth. After gaining notoriety for his charter off the field, Christian Jones is now in the spotlight for how he will perform on it.
My earliest sport’s memory involve tailgating at the Murph, running down the circular exit ramps, and seeing the Padres, Chargers and Aztecs play. As a second generation Aztec, I am passionate about all things SDSU. Other interests include raising my four children, being a great husband and teaching high school.