Sunday, November 7, 2021

App State's Steven Jones, Jr. Named National Defensive Player of the Week

App State's opportunistic cornerback connected his name to Jonesboro in record-setting fashion.

Named the National Defensive Player of the Week by the Walter Camp Football Foundation and College Sports Madness, Steven Jones Jr. intercepted three passes and scored touchdowns on two interception returns in the Mountaineers' 48-14 win at Arkansas State on Saturday. He tied four other defenders for the school's single-game interception record and matched three other App State alums for the pick-six TD record in a single game.

Photo Credit: Ted Gangi (

The returns of 47 and 34 yards, sandwiched around a leaping interception at the goal line, gave the first-year starter from Rockingham three pick-six TDs and four total interceptions over the last two games. With five interceptions this season, Jones and South Carolina's Jaylan Foster are tied for first place nationally.

"I was just focused on doing my job — staying on top, looking at the formations," Jones said. "From watching film, I knew a couple plays, and I just capitalized."

ESPN awarded Jones with a "Helmet Sticker" after the eye-popping performance. No FBS player has had three pick-six TDs in a shorter span than him since Houston's Johnny Jackson set an NCAA record by scoring three times on interception returns in a 1987 game against Texas. 

The three interception returns for touchdowns in one season and four in a career are school records for Jones, who ended the first half of last week's win against ULM with a 14-yard return for a score. He scored on a 34-yard return against Troy last season and actually has five career touchdowns thanks to an end-zone recovery of a punt he blocked against Gardner-Webb in 2018.

A special teams standout early in his career, Jones has now played in 47 games for the Mountaineers, with the Arkansas State game being just his 10th start at cornerback. He made significant contributions last season, when the primary starters were All-America selection/Green Bay Packers rookie Shemar Jean-Charles and Shaun Jolly, whose absence from the lineup Saturday led to another start for Madison Cone.

Tae Hayes and Clifton Duck were the last Mountaineers to enjoy a three-interception day — they did it in the same 2017 game against New Mexico State. The last App State player to score on two interception returns in the same game was linebacker Joel Carter, who accomplished the feat in a 1983 win against Wake Forest.

"Steven Jones had a great day reading the quarterback's eyes, reading the route of the receiver," head coach Shawn Clark said. "I think Coach Lock and Coach West did a great job all week of seeing certain formations they lined up in and what routes they're going to run. Our guys executed."

Rod West is in his first season as App State's cornerbacks coach, and David Lockwood coaches the safeties. The Mountaineers held the pass-oriented Red Wolves to 199 total yards, including just 52 after halftime, and the secondary has accounted for eight of the team's 12 interceptions this season. That total is tied for seventh place nationally.

Constant pressure from the front seven — App State had four sacks and 11 tackles for loss against Arkansas State — played a role in the dominant defensive effort. A block from defensive end Demetrius Taylor even paved the way for Jones to reach the end zone on his touchdown that resulted in a 14-0 lead.

"They made my job easy today," said Jones, whose seven career interceptions have come in the last 13 games. "I love that from them."

Starting safety Kaiden Smith suffered perhaps the only downside to Jones' ball-hawking prowess. Smith was also in position to make an interception on the second-half pass toward the end zone, and his two outstretched hands remained empty because of Jones' leaping grab.

"Any time you get pressure on the quarterback and make him move his feet, he has to throw the ball quick," Clark said. "It gives our secondary a chance to break on the football and make big plays."

Story courtesy of App State Strategic Communications