NEW HAVEN >> The trace of a smile comes to the face of Travis Jones when the UConn football commit looks back on his last season without football.
Jones played the sport as a seventh grader, but then it was time for the next adventure. Let’s just say that more than a few coaches and players did a double take when Jones, then measuring in at about 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds, took to the mound as a pitcher in eighth grade,
“They didn’t want to get hit by the pitch,” Jones said with a laugh.
However, when Jones was ready to enroll as a freshman at Wilbur Cross High School, he decided his baseball playing days were over and he was ready to give football a second chance.
Although he had the size to play right away, Jones spent his freshman season on the junior varsity squad, playing only sparingly on the varsity squad.
“The older guys took me in, they were good leaders,” Jones said. “It helped a lot with me learning schemes, I got a little stronger from my freshman year.”
By his sophomore season he was a starter on both sides of the ball. Jones had 31 tackles, a sack and fumble recovery on defense and on offense he helped four different players break off runs longer than 40 yards. As a junior, Jones was a major reason why the Governors averaged 5.3 yards per carry, the program’s best mark in three years.
Jones began his junior campaign as the starting center before moving to tackle in the final two games. Jones is slated to be the right offensive tackle when Wilbur Cross plays Foran in Friday’s season opener.
“I think the sky is the limit with this kid,” Wilbur Cross coach John Acquavita said. “I think if he continues to grow, there is no telling what he can do on a football field. He is very good, a very talented athlete for a guy that big.
“I have said he could be the best we have ever coached. There are a lot of guys who like playing football, this kid truly loves football, loves it.”
Considering that during his days as the head coach at Hyde, Acquavita counted future NFL linemen Bruce Campbell and Martin Parker and national recruit Richard Kittrell among his pupils, it is quite the statement.
Acquavita is not the only coach to rave about the potential of the 6-foot-5, 352-pound senior who recently ran the 40-yard dash in 5.0 seconds.
The Governors recently had a joint practice with Hamden Hall which gave Hamden Hall coach Joe Linta, an NFL player agent and former college assistant football coach who is coming off an 11-0 season with the Hornets, a chance to see Jones in action.
“He’s big, he’s strong, he’s fast,” Linta said. “He’s a good pickup for them.”
Jones admitted that the recruiting interest didn’t pick up until this year. He went into a couple of camps and the offers quickly followed. He originally committed to Rutgers but just as quickly decommitted.
Feeling a bond with UConn offensive line back J.B. Grimes and trusting in Randy Edsall to return the Huskies to the point of making annual trips to bowl games, he committed to UConn.
“He (Grimes) has a lot of experience under his belt,” Jones said. “I went up to the camp and he told me a lot of new stuff I didn’t know.
“They have Coach Edsall back, he has built a lot of tradition up there. It helped me a lot. When I went up there, they weren’t talking to me about football, they were talking to me more as a person.”
Acquavita and Jones spoke on a regular basis during the recruiting process. Acquavita believes UConn is the perfect place for Jones.
“He had a good amount of offers and had some options,” Acquavita said. “From the get go I wanted him to feel things out, see the schools and meet the coaches and as it got down towards the end, he was asking me what I thought. If this should take off and be something special, to be an in-state guy and be a part of that, it could really be a great thing for him to be a part of that and be the face of a program that is in the rebuild process. The support system of having coaches, family and everybody here right at your fingertips for anything you need is kind of a nice feeling.”
Jones said his mother and grandparents were especially thrilled that he was staying close to home to play college football. He’s also heard from former New Haven high school football stars who are encouraging him to make the best of his opportunity at UConn.
“I want to put new Haven on the map,” Jones said. “I got a couple of messages when they heard of it, people I didn’t even know saying, ‘way to say in state.’ I feel pride for representing my state.”