Editor’s note: The New York Giants selected Duke quarterback Daniel Jones with the sixth pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. South Charlotte Weekly readers may remember Jones from his playing days at Charlotte Latin. Here is sports editor Andrew Stark’s profile on Jones reprinted from Oct. 24, 2014.
Early in the 2012 season, Charlotte Latin coach Larry McNulty turned his young team over to a skinny, 5-foot-10, 135-pound sophomore quarterback who had no varsity experience.
At first the decision paid off, as the Hawks won the first two games Daniel Jones started. But soon the reality of the situation started to set in, and the Hawks finished that year with seven consecutive losses as the offense sputtered and averaged just over 16 points per game over the final two months.
Jones had a decent debut, as he completed nearly 60 percent of his passes and finished the year with 1,415 yards, 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
But, more important than his stats, that season Jones decided he was going to do whatever it took to turn around the Hawks and deliver on his dream of playing college football.
“It’s always been my dream to play in college,” Jones said. “In my 10th-grade year I told my dad I was going to play college football, and while at the time that wasn’t the most realistic thing, I thought it was and I convinced myself that it was. That’s kind of how I’ve been approaching it.”
Jones, who now stands 6-foot-4 and weighs over 200 pounds, changed physically, but coach Larry McNulty has seen his quarterback mature on the field, too.
“He’s really improved his arm strength, gotten bigger and just worked his butt off,” McNulty said. “We couldn’t throw the ball vertically down the field two years ago, and we didn’t do it much last year, but that’s a big part of our game now. He can make any throw I want to throw – he can throw the post corner, he can throw the fade, he can throw the post – anything I want to do, he can do it.”
And the result of Jones’ tireless work speaks volumes. Last year he led the Hawks to a 9-3 record and threw for 2,400 yards and 27 touchdowns. But even with his standout junior season, this year he’s taken his game – and his teammates expectations – to a whole new level.
Even with more of a focus on downfield throws, Jones is still completing nearly 60 percent of his passes, but through seven games has thrown for 2,142 yards, 32 touchdowns and just five interceptions.
His 306 passing yards per game has the Hawks off to a 6-1 start as they travel to Davidson Day on Friday, Oct. 24. And his prolific passing has the Latin offense running on a breakneck record-setting pace as they’re averaging 52 points per game, more than a touchdown higher than they’re previous highest-scoring season in their undefeated state championship season of 2007.
“I’ve thrown throughout the spring and the summer, so just throwing more has helped,” Jones said. “I worked a lot here with the Latin coaches, went to the U.S. Performance Center this summer and have gotten a lot more comfortable in the offense and can see things developing better.”
Case in point is in the Hawks’lone loss of the season, a 40-30 loss to two-time defending N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association champion Charlotte Christian.
Jones threw for 268 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 119 yards in the loss, prompting Knights coach Jason Estep’s comments following the game.
“He’s by far the best quarterback that we’ve faced all year,” Estep said on Oct. 2. “He’s really, really good.”
But the praise rolls off Jones like defenders looking to bring him down. He said if the Hawks get another shot at the Knights – it would only occur in a rematch of last year’s state title game – they would cut down on penalties and mistakes that doomed them the first time around. As for the high praise, Jones defers it to his teammates.
“It means a lot, but the system I’m in gives me the opportunity to run and throw the ball, and the guys I get to throw to can make all the plays,” Jones said. “We have a complete team. The offensive linemen are all veteran guys and have been together and played together since the seventh grade, and that’s how our whole team is, we’ve been together for a while and been through a lot.”
While the Hawks have a number of receiving options including Kanyon Tuttle (27 receptions, 661 yards, nine touchdowns), Melvin Rouse (19 catches, 428 yards, four touchdowns), Carson Song (22 receptions, 362 yards, eight touchdowns) and Alex Massardo (156 yards, four touchdowns), the offense could be even more potent.
Senior running back Denzel Pearson was coming off a 1,000-yard rushing junior campaign, but was lost before the season to injury. Junior 6-foot-3 receiver Jonathan Jennings was the Hawks top target last year and had 16 catches for 327 yards and six touchdowns before getting hurt in the Christian game, forcing him to miss the rest of the season.
Despite the costly losses, the Hawks still have Jones and that’s reason enough for Charlotte Latin fans to get excited about the possibility of bringing home the school’s first title since 2009.
“We’ve been closer each year,” Jones said. “This offseason we knew what we needed to do and we’ve worked toward that. To do it with this group of guys that have all made the sacrifices and put in the effort since the seventh grade, would be special.”
And maybe nobody has developed more so than Jones, as he’s gone from an overmatched sophomore to an overpowering senior directing one of the state’s most prolific offenses. McNulty said college coaches have been taking notice of Jones’ growth on the field and are clamoring to get him to their program. Princeton, University of Connecticut, Brown, Wake Forest, Richmond and a host of others are recruiting Jones, and many have already offered.
“He’s one of the youngest kids in his class,” McNulty said. “He won’t turn 18 until early May, so these college people that are talking to him are like, ‘Oh, man, let’s put him in the weight room for the year, redshirt him and let him come out at 6-5 and 220 pounds and see what he can do then.”’
While Jones’ future is undoubtedly bright, he’s stuck in the present of leading the Hawks to a conference title and, if they’re fortunate enough, another crack at a state championship game.
And McNulty is glad he can lean on Jones to make those dreams – much like his of playing in college – a reality.
“He’s paid attention to learning his craft,” McNulty said. “He understands defenses, he understands what we’re doing offensively, he can run option, he can run zone read, he can throw the ball long or short, he’s gone to camps and he’s spent a lot of time getting tutored by people on throwing mechanics.
“Really, he’s done everything that he needs to do to develop himself. Besides that, he’s tough as hell. He’s had broken bones and played through that. He’s just a smart, hard-nosed kid.”