Just try keeping up with Jones

East Hartford

Whether he becomes the face of UConn football one day depends largely upon his ability to sniff out pass routes of other fast people, catch projectiles and sacrifice assorted limbs for the cause. Just make no mistake: Byron Jones is exactly what we'd want in all the kids representing UConn football.

Connecticut born, Connecticut educated, Connecticut Husky.

And so we begin the hosannas not with any mad props or bon mots from his friends or coaches, but with U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty of the state's Fifth District. Yes. Cleanup hitter, quote-wise. Esty knows Jones. While the rest of Jones' teammates spent the summer perhaps pondering the vagaries of the Tampa Two, Jones, a New Britain native, went to Capitol Hill, one of Esty's interns.

Imagine: a college football story not about gypsies, tramps and thieves, but of a young man who understands the tragically underappreciated view of The Big Picture.

"I was very impressed with Byron's great people skills," Esty said Thursday, the day of UConn's season opener, through spokesman Jeb Fain. "It can get pretty hectic on Capitol Hill, but Byron's ability to focus and tackle multiple projects, while responding to the needs of constituents at the same time, is no doubt part of what has also made him successful."

Jones, a junior and No. 16 in your program, was starting for the Huskies on Thursday night at cornerback. No doubt the masses know quarterback Chandler Whitmer or maybe some other in-state kids a little better. For now. But this kid's a keeper. Esty sure knows how to pick 'em.

"It was eye-opening," Jones said earlier this season about his internship. "Just to see stuff outside of football is a whole different life. At some point football will end and you have to find something you love."

Jones spent two months in Esty's office. He was the face of it, the tour guide, for whenever residents of the fifth district dropped in.

"He's an excellent role model," Esty said. "A pleasure to work with."

Jones played for Jude Kelly at St. Paul of Bristol. His dad is a state police officer. A kid we can embrace. Were he a basketball player here - sans helmet and with most fans not watching from afar - we'd all know him better. Still, isn't this what we want? A state kid who stayed home, a state kid with quite a "how I spent my summer vacation" story, a state kid who embodies all the good stuff.

Example: Jones was a guest last week on "Beyond The Beat," a Connecticut-themed "Sports Reporters" show on CPTV Sports. He was asked how much his life would change if the current proposal to pay student-athletes actually happened.

"Wow," he said, pondering the scope of the question. "I'd get a new laptop. Mine's four years old."

Full disclosure: Yours truly asked the question. Jones didn't know it was coming. His answer nearly made me weep tears of joy.

And now for the football part: UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni has moved Jones from safety to corner this season. Corners are lonely guys sometimes, on the apocryphal island. Look at it this way: If Jones has the skills to impress a United States representative with his ability to multi-task, he ought to be plenty trustworthy for everything else.

If he can "tackle multiple projects, while responding to the needs of constituents at the same time," as Esty said, what, he's going to fear some kid from Michigan?

It was unclear how many Connecticut high school football players were in the stands Thursday night. Here's hoping they understood Jones was one of several Connecticut-born starters. He's part of the first generation of kids who grew up with big-time football here as an option. He was 11 when the Rent opened.

Note to the high school kids: If you return to The Rent this season, pay attention to No. 16. Do everything he does. Say everything he says. That would be called a good start.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.


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