TEMPE – Even in middle school, Emory Jones had his doubters.
“You could hear the fans and the other opponents question: ‘There’s no way that kid is a seventh-grader, he’s way too big,’“ said Tim Barron, his high school coach.
At Florida, the doubters emerged again, and uncertainty about his future contributed to Jones transferring to Arizona State after the quarterback started the 2021 season in Gainesville.
And now, here he is, embroiled in a quarterback controversy as the Sun Devils have been quiet on a starter for Saturday’s game in Colorado.
Jones or Trenton Bourguet?
“Going forward, it’s an open competition, a true open competition for both of those guys,” ASU coach Shaun Aguano said Monday. “I still will say this: I’m going to pick the best guy that will get us that win.”
Jones, who took first-team reps during 11-on-11 drills Friday, still believes he is that guy, a confidence rooted in a childhood dominated by football.
Growing up, Jones was surrounded by sports. His parents were versatile athletes who believed in the value of athletics.
“My mom played basketball and softball, and my dad played football and basketball,” Jones said. “My dad, was a high school coach, and my football coach growing up, so I … kind of just fell in love with the game. I started playing flag when I was about 4 years old. I probably was the youngest guy out there, but I was always ready to play.”
Jones grew up in LaGrange, a community in western Georgia not far from the Alabama border. His success at Heard County High School drew the attention of college scouts.
“Where Emory played and where I coached for 19 years, we got one red light in the whole town, and in a place like that, everybody knows everybody, especially when a really good talent comes up,” said Barron, now the coach at Villa Rica High School. “As coaches, it’s our job to know who they are, and it didn’t take long to get to know Emory Jones.”
In high school, Jones was a four-year starting quarterback. He had a shy demeanor when he came into the program and was not quite ready to become a leader, Barron said.
“When he first came in, he was awfully quiet. But, he and his mother worked to correct that,” Barron said. “They worked on verbal communication, and how to make sure that we’re all on the same page. By the time he was a junior, he really started to shine.”
Jones said his mother has always been in his corner, cheering him on and evaluating his performance. Her hard work would pay off by the end of his junior year, as he showed more maturity and leadership, winning the trust of his teammates.
He would throw for 1,197 yards and rush for 494 yards in the first eight games of his senior season, attracting attention from Power Five schools around the nation including Florida, Alabama, Florida State, Auburn and Ohio State.
“The recruiting process at quarterback is insane because at any level, they can’t really afford to miss on a quarterback,” Barron said. “They want to know the good, the bad, the ugly and they’re in your office over and over again. I was overwhelmed by how much attention to detail they had. Not just one school, but all of them.
Jones passed all the tests and was rated the No. 5 dual-threat quarterback in the nation by 247Sports. Well on his way to becoming a star at the next level, Jones would commit to Florida, where in 2021 he would throw for 2,734 yards and 19 touchdowns and rush for 758 yards and four touchdowns as the starting quarterback.
Despite the statistics, the Gators had an underwhelming season, finishing at the bottom of the SEC with a 6-7 record.
“Last year I went through a lot in Florida,” Jones said. “I started, and things didn’t go the way I had planned. I don’t really think it was set up for me to be successful there, so I went out to search for a spot and felt like this is the spot for me.”
He has thrown for 1,347 yards and five touchdowns for the 2-5 Sun Devils.
“I love the atmosphere here,” Jones said. “It’s probably one of the best entrances that I’ve ever seen in college football, and the fans have been loud.”
The season hasn’t been without adversity. After Herm Edwards was fired, Ray Anderson, the vice president of university athletics, named Aguano as the interim coach, prompting another challenge for Jones.
After Jones suffered a concussion in the second quarter of an Oct. 8 matchup against No. 21 Washington, backup quarterback Bourguet took over and led the Sun Devils to a 45-38 victory, sparking whispers of a quarterback controversy.
In a press conference following the game, Aguano said he will not punish an injured player and that both Bourguet and Jones will have an equal opportunity for the starting job.
Jones would win the battle for the matchup against Stanford last Saturday, throwing for 227 yards and one touchdown. However, his performance was not enough to overcome an anemic offense in a 15-14 loss in Stanford.
Following the game, Aguano said he would take over play-calling duties from offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas, fueling even more questions about the future of the ASU program.
“Any time you kind of change the offense in the middle of the season, let alone a new play caller, it’s a big deal,” tight end Jalin Conyers said. “A lot of it is just getting adjusted.”
Despite the uncertainty, Jones has learned to remain poised and focused on his goals.
“I’m confident in anyone that we put back there,” Conyters said. “I know, obviously, everyone has their struggles, everyone has the things that they go through. So whether it’s Trenton or Emory, we’re confident they’ll both be ready to go on Saturday.”