One play, 12 seconds. That’s all Ball State redshirt freshman running back Will Jones needed.
It started out as a simple run play to the right side, but then a hole opened up.
“The O-line did a great job opening the hole,” said Jones, who hadn’t run a play with the starting offensive line all year.
Jones hit the hole and saw nothing but turf ahead of him. He was off to the races with an Eastern Michigan safety closing the gap.
“I thought someone was gaining on me,” Jones said. “I was getting kind of nervous.”
But then he got to the 10-yard line.
“Then I got to the 10, and I was like, ‘Man, I’m going to score,’” Jones said.
He did score, and his teammates were soon right there with him to celebrate after an 80-yard touchdown run for his first trip to the end zone in his college career.
“The way he was running, there was no way that he was going to get caught,” head coach Mike Neu said. “I didn’t know he had that in him, but I’m certainly proud of him.”
Jones came to Ball State as a walk-on in 2017, and he still is. Listed as the eighth running back on the depth chart his freshman season, Jones had to settle for a spot on the scout team. After taking a redshirt season, Jones still finds himself getting most of his reps during practice on the scout team offense opposite the starting defense.
Based on what Neu has seen from him in practice, Jones will maintain spurts of playing time as the season progresses.
“You’re going to continue to see Will. He’ll have a role,” Neu said. “We have a lot of trust in Will. If he gets opportunities and gets reps during the game, I know he’s going to be ready to go from a mental standpoint, and he’s going to give us everything he’s got.”
When Jones took advantage of his opportunity, while it came in an unfortunate situation down 42-13, it was an example of how hard work pays off. Redshirt junior James Gilbert said he has seen Jones develop as a player over the offseason into this year and wasn’t surprised to see better results out of him.
“When any one of us in the [running back] group get a chance to score a touchdown, it’s amazing,” Gilbert said. “I felt great for him because he put in the work, he put in the effort and put in the time, so he deserved it.”
As a walk-on, Jones said he knows his path to playing time wouldn’t be easy. He also knows what it takes to get on the field.
“I just knew coming in that this is going to take hard work,” Jones said. “Sometimes you’re going to get overlooked because you may not be the fastest or the best, but if you have hard work and effort, you can go a long way.”
Ball State (3-5, 2-2 MAC) is finishing up its first short week of the season and will be visiting Ohio (4-3, 2-1 MAC) Thursday, Oct. 25. Game time is set for 7 p.m.
Contact Zach Piatt with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @zachpiatt13.