Hakim Jones has never been attached to a particular jersey number. The senior safety has learned to appreciate the third and last number he will wear for N.C. State this season.
Jones will wear No. 1, a switch from No. 20, in what has become an unofficial tradition.
Safety Jarvis Byrd, who came back from three knee injuries, wore No. 1 last season after coach Dave Doeren wanted to reward Byrd for his hard off-season work and to signify a leadership position.
“The number meant a lot to (Byrd),” Jones said, “and it means a lot to me.”
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Doeren said it was a coincidence that another player in the defensive backfield earned the jersey number. But Doeren said Jones, a fifth-year senior from Southern Vance High, displayed the same diligent work ethic and leadership in the off-season workouts.
“He had a really good summer,” Doeren said. “It’s just a way to show a guy that has worked hard and accomplished the things in the program we value.”
Jones, 6-2 and 205 pounds, led the team in solo tackles (47) and total tackles (80) last season, his second as the starter at strong safety.
Since a standout effort in N.C. State’s bowl win over Central Florida, Jones has also earned his degree in program management.
While both accomplishments are notable, they are not how Jones is best known. Five days before N.C. State’s annual game with North Carolina last November, Jones called out UNC quarterback Marquise Williams.
“He runs the ball a lot, so after you hit him a few times, he basically almost quits,” Jones said the Monday before N.C. State’s 35-7 win in Chapel Hill.
It fired us up. We knew he was ready to play, and that made us come out and be ready to back him up. He’s a leader on this defense.
NC State’s Juston Burris on teammate Hakim Jones’ comments about UNC QB Marquise Williams before last year’s game
Jones said other than occasional goodnatured reminders from position coach Clayton White, he doesn’t hear much about the pregame proclamation.
“If we would have lost, it would have been a bigger situation,” Jones said.
Senior cornerback Juston Burris said Jones’ comments actually pumped up N.C. State’s defense, which held Williams to 11 yards on 16 carries and knocked UNC’s leading rusher out of the game early in the third quarter.
“It fired us up,” Burris said. “We knew he was ready to play, and that made us come out and be ready to back him up. He’s a leader on this defense.”
Doeren told Jones before the UNC game that he wasn’t thrilled with providing the opponent with motivation, but it was up to him to back up what he said.
Looking back, Doeren said the incident was Jones’ chance to step up to a challenge.
“It’s something I told him afterward that you didn’t need to say,” Doeren said. “But if you say something, you have to back it up –and he did.”
The secondary, with many of the same players, was a weak spot on N.C. State’s defense during a 3-9 season in 2013, but it turned into a strength in 2014.
The last five games in particular, with N.C. State winning four, were when Jones played his best, Doeren said.
“He got a lot of confidence as the year went on,” Doeren said. “Early on I thought he was playing to not make mistakes. He got better and better as the year went on.”
With all five starters back in the secondary – with Jones, Burris and junior cornerback Jack Tocho going into their third season together as starters – Jones is confident that the group can take another step this season.
“We’re going to pick up right where we left off,” Jones said.
By Jones’ standards, that’s not a very bold proclamation, but the fifth-year senior has learned that actions speak louder than words.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio