Jones takes over as Coast Guard opens football practice

New London — In the season-finale last year against Merchant Marine, Coast Guard Academy quarterback Ryan Jones was 24-for-36 passing with a career-high 311 yards and three touchdowns. He had a long touchdown called back due to a holding penalty and another potential TD pass dropped in what was a 48-23 loss.

“You're talking 480 yards and five touchdowns (if those two plays are touchdowns),” Coast Guard offensive coordinator Ray LaForte said Wednesday, the Bears' first day of practice in the sultry afternoon heat at Cadet Memorial Field.

“That would anoint anybody. But football is finicky.”

Jones, who hails from Punxsutawney, Pa., started the final six games at quarterback last year following a career-ending injury to Ethan Goldcamp.

Goldcamp, the heir to record-setting 2017 graduate Derek Victory, was the starter because of his arm.

“He had such an ability to wing the football,” head coach Bill George said of Goldcamp. “You capitalize on his ability. The other quarterbacks didn't have his ability to throw the football.”

Then Jones, originally recruited by Coast Guard as a defensive back, took over. And his passing ability, judging by the season-finale, did improve. His strong point, however, was his toughness in running the ball, something that wasn't necessarily high up in the Bears' playbook at that time.

He finished 91-for-174 passing for 964 yards with six touchdowns and 14 interceptions, also rushing for 79 yards and three touchdowns. The Bears, however, were 0-6 during that time. Jones put the blame for the finish on his own shoulders, not taking into account what LaForte said … football is finicky.

That brings us to Wednesday, Jones' first Coast Guard football opening day as the starting quarterback, a day he vowed to use his increased strength from offseason weight training to emulate his dad's favorite, former Chicago Bears rough-and-tumble quarterback Jim McMahon.

The playbook now belongs to Jones.

“He's ready. He's ready,” LaForte said Wednesday. “Last year, he was thrown in the fire. The things we were good at, he wasn't necessarily good at. It's really exciting. He drops in (to the office) all the time. He's clearly an upperclassman at the academy; that's better than being an underclassman at the academy. He's more smiling and upbeat.”

“I feel like I'm a lot more confident,” Jones said. “Last time, I kind of never did. I forgot what it was like to play quarterback.”

Jones said if he had a few “adrenaline rushes and nervous twitches,” they seemed to dissipate with the action-packed Merchant Marine game.

“That helped me remember what football was all about,” he said. “I kind of relaxed, decompressed. That could have been my last opportunity to show what I have. If I hadn't done well, I might not have been such a lock (coming back as starter).”

Jones, at 6 feet, said he played at about 205 pounds last season. He bumped that up to 220 in the offseason through weightlifting, but said he's down a few pounds this summer. He'd like to compete this season at about 225.

That was another component of Jones' growth. He spent this summer as a Swab Summer cadre at the academy, helping to train the incoming cadets, something he found helped him as a leader. Jones spent an emotional season last year, wanting so badly to win.

“That's something I've always had trouble with. Who likes to lose?” he said. “The most important thing is to be resilient.”

Joining the coaching staff this season is Goldcamp, a senior, who George said received a standing ovation at Tuesday's meeting of players. Jones called Goldcamp “a mentor to me.”

“Just the way he's handled this whole situation. (Not playing) would have been the worst news I've ever heard in my life,” Jones said.

The Bears return 14 starters this season, their 20th under George, six on offense and eight on defense. Captaining the team are wide receiver Chip Crowley and defensive lineman Jack Brandt.

Jones will be backed up by sophomore John Barbera, along with freshmen Ryan Barlow and Niles Harrell.

“We want to play to his strengths,” George said of Jones. “He's gotten bigger and stronger. We're still a spread, no-huddle offense, but we have some young people we want to see run the ball. … Some of the plays, we'll rely on (Jones') toughness. We're going to throw him in the heat of the stuff more. The focus fits him."

Coast Guard starts the season Thursday, Aug. 30 at home against the University of New England.

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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