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When James Franklin was introduced as head coach at Penn State, he set a mission to dominate the state on the recruiting trail. Franklin has done well in securing some of the top talent from within the state on a fairly regular occasion, with some years netting more of the state’s top talent than others, but sometimes the best player in the state ultimately decides to go to a different school.
That was the case back in 2000 years ago when Kevin Jones committed to Virginia Tech over Penn State. It is a story that has lived with Penn State and Virginia Tech fans for years and was recently highlighted with a look back at the decision by The Athletic.
Jones was a multi-sport standout in high school and he was a native of Chester, Pennsylvania. Jones was the first recipient of the U.S. Army Player of the Year Award as a senior and he was rated as the nation’s top recruit, not just the top recruit in Pennsylvania. Naturally, former Penn State head coach Joe Paterno wanted to keep Jones close to home, but the decision came down to Penn State and the rising national power that was Virginia Tech, home to Mike Vick and a legitimate national title contender at the time.
Jones ended up deciding to go to Virginia Tech and revealed his decision in one of the earliest nationally televised commitment decisions that has become so common today.
“If you’re a blue-chipper from Pennsylvania, you go to Penn State. But I’ve always been a little contrary,” Jones said to ESPN in 2011. “On the day of my press conference, I still hadn’t decided between Virginia Tech and PSU. As I sat down in front of everybody, I had both jerseys with me. I pulled the Penn State jersey out of a bag and said, “I will … not be attending Penn State.” Then I ripped off my sweater and had a Mike Vick jersey on underneath. The entire room was flabbergasted.”
It was an early signing announcement press conference stunt at the time, and it rankled many Penn State fans following the recruiting buzz along the way.
Jones has made it known it was a tough decision for him to choose between Penn State and Virginia Tech. Now, all these years later, Jones says the decision came down to a flip of a coin. And he flipped the coin in the bathroom leading up to his announcement. From The Athletic;
Jones had a Penn State jersey in his possession, but he also had a Virginia Tech one. His indecision leading up to the bathroom coin flip forced him to prepare for all contingencies.
So what if the coin had landed on heads? It is an amazing question to explore with our imaginations today, knowing what we know about what happened with Penn State’s football success and failures in the years to come.
It is unlikely Paterno would have used his freshman prize Jones as a featured quarterback in the 2000 season with Rashard Casey entrenched as his starter. But freshman Zack Mills emerged on the scene in 2001. Could that have been the beginning of Jones as Penn State’s quarterback? Would it have avoided a 5-6 season for the Nittany Lions? Very possibly. Mills was Penn State’s starting quarterback for the next three seasons before Michael Robinson finally got his chance to lead the program back to respectability in 2005. Penn State went 3-9 in 2003 and 4-7 in 2004.
Penn State had losing seasons in three of the four years Jones played at Virginia Tech. The Hokies never quite reached their national title aspirations while Jones was in Blacksburg, where Frank Beamer was using the former No. 1 recruit as a running back quite effectively. It would seem things worked out for Jones at Virginia Tech overall, and perhaps he avoided the misery that was playing Penn State football during that rough era for the program on the field.
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