Colorado State rising junior Emmanuel Jones missed out on playing in a bowl game his freshman season due to injury. The Woodland graduate didn't get the experience last year either, because the team took a big step backwards with a 3-9 finish.
Jones is determined to return to the postseason and finally be able to participate in that coveted 13th game. Apparently, everyone else in the Rams program has the same goal in mind.
“I feel like the team is looking great,” Jones said earlier this week from Las Vegas, where he attended Mountain West Conference media days. “I can vouch that we’re going to have a way better season than last year. I don’t know how great, but it’s going to be better than last year."
Following a 7-6 campaign in 2017, which included a slim 31-28 defeat to Marshall in the New Mexico Bowl, Colorado State struggled to slow down opposing offenses last year. The Rams allowed at least 27 points in all but one game.
“It wasn’t what we wanted it to be or expected it to be,” Jones said of the 2018 season. “Now, we’ve got newer expectations and higher standards. If you don’t follow up to those, then you can’t be a part of the new movement we’ve got going on. That’s basically how we see it.”
Following five consecutive defeats to end the year and ensure their first losing season since 2012, Jones and his teammates entered the offseason with a lot to consider. Entering Mike Bobo's fifth season in charge of the program, it appears the Rams are starting to fall back into line with what their head coach wants.
“We’ve definitely changed the mentality,” Jones said. “It’s a new mindset going on. Everybody has bought in and changed the way they think about things now. Focal point has been different, too. We know what we want. We’re all on the same page, going towards the same goal.”
It won't be an easy turnaround. The nonconference portion of the schedule includes Colorado, Arkansas and Toledo. The Buffaloes certainly won't want to lose to an in-state foe; the Razorbacks will be looking for revenge after losing to the Rams in 2018; and the Rockets are coming off a trip to the Bahamas Bowl.
That all happens before Colorado State even begins MWC play. The incredibly tough conference had three teams — Fresno State, Utah State and Boise State —win at least 10 games last season, and the Rams have to face each of them.
At the recent media days, Colorado State was tabbed to finish fifth in the six-team Mountain division. The preseason predictions are meaningless to Jones.
“To be honest, I don’t even look at that stuff,” he said. “All that is, to me, is people from the outside looking in. I don’t pay any attention to that outside noise.”
He became adept at blocking out negative energy during his time at Woodland. Despite playing on a winless team his senior season, Jones earned first-team all-state honors from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was named Region 7-AAAAA co-defensive player of the year.
Following Jones' graduation, his younger brother, Titus, became the face of the program. He helped lead the Wildcats to seven total wins over his final two seasons and signed with Alabama A&M this spring.
“It’s a blessing to see him get an opportunity like that,” said Emmanuel Jones, who got to be a part of his brother's signing ceremony via video chat. “I’m proud of him. He knows I’m proud of him. I tell him that all the time. I’m just glad he got to play at the next level, not many people do get that opportunity. I’m grateful for him, and he’s grateful for the opportunity.”
If Titus Jones can make the same kind of impression as his brother at the next level, the Bulldogs will be thrilled. Since joining Colorado State, the elder Jones has proven to be one of the most reliable contributors on the Rams defense.
Injuries have been the only thing to really hold the 6-foot-4 defensive end back. Along with missing the bowl game in December 2017, Jones had to sit out two games last year. He's hoping those health issues are behind him.
“I feel a lot better,” Jones said. “I feel pretty much back to where I was, my old self. I feel like the way I’ve been in the weight room and working with the strength coaches, I feel like they have me back to normal, almost, to perform at a high standard, to perform at 100% all the time.”
Jones' statistics in each of his first two seasons were nearly identical, despite spending his freshman season at outside linebacker and his sophomore year on the defensive front. He started eight of the 10 games he played in last season after starting just one of 12 games his first year in Fort Collins.
He recorded 16 solo tackles in both years with 19 assists in 2017 and 18 last season. Jones picked up a pair of sacks in each year, while increasing his tackles for loss from 6 to 7.5 as a sophomore.
“Just play hard every play,” Jones said of what allows him to make such an impact. “I’ve got a competitive nature and a high motor, so I’m just trying to do what I can do to put my team in the best possible position to win. Part of that includes me playing to the whistle every play and getting to the ball whenever I can.”
His best game to date came during Colorado State's stunning comeback win over Arkansas last September at home. The Rams faced a 27-9 deficit midway through the third quarter before rallying for a 34-27 victory.
Jones racked up five tackles, including two for loss, one sack and one interception. The pick stands as the only one of his collegiate career, but it was his 12-yard sack to force a punt that will long be remembered by the Colorado State faithful. The key stop came with the game tied in the final few minutes, allowing the Rams to drive just 59 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
That win proved to be the signature moment of the team's 2018 season, and Jones hopes to see a lot more of those this fall.
“That was an incredible game, an incredible atmosphere,” he said of the triumph. “I want to share more moments with my team like that. That’s what I’m expecting. I want to be on that side of the outcome every time with all my boys.”