Canadian Football League

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Darrell Jones has always had a knack for making the most of what he calls "the road less traveled."
Like on Oct. 2, when the Cal Poly kick return specialist fielded a South Dakota State punt and ditched his blockers down the right side of the field and cruised by his lonesome down the left side for an
89-yard touchdown run.
So it comes to no surprise that Jones, Cal Poly's all-time kick returns leader, has passed up the gamble that is the NFL Draft and opted to play in the
Canadian Football League next season.
"I kind of felt like by skipping the draft, I wasn't pursuing my dream," said Jones, who signed a one-year deal with the
Montreal Alouettes worth more than $50,000. "But this is the best way for me to get there. The CFL is a side door to the NFL. That's the way I have to look at it. They're not going to roll out the red carpet for me, so I'll have to get in the side door. I guarantee that I will get there one day."
Jones, who heard from scouts that he could be a second-day pick or a free-agent pickup at worse in the NFL, said there were still questions about his height (5-foot-8) and the level of competition he faced at Division I-AA Cal Poly.
"If I was 6-1, I'd be in the league," he said. "I'm not, so I wouldn't be guaranteed anything if I waited for the draft to come around. Even if I made it through the (NFL) preseason, if I didn't make the final cut, I might be out of a spot and would have to wait another year to have this kind of opportunity."
So Jones, who returned eight kicks (five punts and three kickoffs) for touchdowns in four years at Cal Poly and is the
Mustangs' all-time receptions leader (177), is taking the CFL route.
"He could've waited and rolled the dice in the NFL, but he was always going to be fighting the size thing," said Cal Poly head coach Rich Ellerson. "This is a nice fit for him. Plus the NFL has a financial interest in the CFL, so if he continues to be an excellent return man and a receiver, those (NFL) guys are going to take a good look at him."
It's a route former Cal Poly running back Antonio Warren is familiar with.
Warren, who never made it past the preseason with the New York Giants, is a star running back for the B.C. Lions, leading the CFL club with 1,136 yards rushing and five touchdowns last season.
"I talked to Antonio Warren about my decision," Jones said. "He told me the biggest thing to making it (to the NFL) is to stay consistent in the Canadian league. He said a lot of players start off great and die off at the end of the season. You have to stay consistent, and if you do that the NFL scouts will come."
In the meantime, Jones will be working out with current and former Cal Poly football players in preparation for training camp in May.
And he has plenty to prepare for, as he will be trying to land a starting receiver/kick return job for the winningest coach in the league's history, Don Matthews, who has won five Grey Cups and coached in the CFL for five decades.
On top of playing north of the border, Jones will have to adapt to some major rule changes.
The field is bigger. There are 12 players instead of 11 and three downs instead of four.
Then there's the 5-yard halo rule that punt returners love, especially Jones who hopes the rule will help pave his road to the end zone, and eventually to the NFL.
"That's going to be real exciting," Jones said of the rule that keeps defenders at least 5 yards away from a return man until a punt is fielded. "I'm looking forward to scoring some touchdowns off of that.
"I just want to make a big impact from the first game I play. I'm not going in there thinking I'm a rookie who's going to wait his turn. I'm going to take my turn and make the most of it."


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