For three years, Akil Jones had trouble finding his way onto the field for the Colorado football team.
Now, it’s tough to take him off the field.
The junior inside linebacker has been one of the most improved players on the team this season, as he enters Saturday’s regular season finale at No. 6 Utah (5:44 p.m.; TV: ABC) ranking fifth on the team with 50 tackles.
“Akil has grown a lot,” said junior Nate Landman, who leads the team with 127 tackles and plays next to Jones at linebacker. “Akil’s not only someone that I could count on to do his job, but he’s turned into an X-factor guy and someone who can make a play when a play needs to be made, whether it’s a (tackle for loss) or affecting the quarterback. He’s a solid, solid player who’s now not only knowing what he’s doing, but the whole defense as a scheme.
“I love playing next to Akil. He’s a great leader and he’s an older guy, too, so people look up to him and he’s kind of stepping into that role, as well.”
Jones, from Valley Christian High School in San Jose, Calif., redshirted in 2016 and played a total of just 40 defensive snaps during the 2017-18 seasons.
This season, he began the year as a backup to sophomore Jonathan Van Diest, who started the first five games.
Jones has vaulted to the top of the depth chart during the second half of the season. He’s made five starts, including the past five games.
In Saturday’s 20-14 win against Washington, he recorded nine tackles, including one for loss, in 46 snaps.
“Akil has worked very, very hard,” head coach Mel Tucker said. “(Linebackers coach Ross) Els has done a great job with him. His instincts are starting to show up and he’s starting to play fast and he has a better grasp of what to do, how to do it and why it’s important to do it that way. And when players know what to do, they play fast. When you play fast, you have a chance to be physical. I think that’s what you’re seeing with Akil.”
Hoping for return
CU fans, obviously, are hoping that star receiver Laviska Shenault will return for his senior season. Meanwhile, NFL teams are hoping he’ll enter the 2020 draft.
Shenault has indicated in the past that he’s likely to turn pro after this season, but has yet to make an official announcement. He’s well aware the fans want him back in Boulder.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “On social media – Twitter, Instagram, DMs. Everyone. Everyone is saying something like that.”
His response, he said, is typically “LOL” or a laugh emoji, as he continues to put his official decision on hold.
“I’m just blessed to be in this position I’m in and just thankful,” he said.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder has caught 52 passes for 721 yards and four touchdowns this season, while adding 136 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
Snow doesn’t slow down Buffs
A storm that piled nearly two feet of snow on Boulder didn’t keep the Buffs from their usual practice routine on Tuesday.
“Even today, with two feet of snow on the ground, we were still in at 5:30 (a.m.) for treatment,” quarterback Steven Montez said. “Our 7 a.m. meeting got pushed back a little bit (until) 8, but we were still in early. So we’re keeping our same routine, keeping that same rhythm that we’ve had, just keep it going. We worked hard today, we had a good day of practice.”
CU is 2-1 against ranked teams this season, defeating Nebraska and Arizona State, while losing to Oregon. The last time CU beat three ranked teams in one season was 2001, when they went 5-2 against Top 25 foes. … Former Denver Broncos quarterback Brian Griese will be the color commentator for ABC for Saturday’s game. His father, Bob, did color for 16 CU games from 1993-2006. According to CU, it will be the first time that two family members have handled broadcasting duties for Buffs’ games. … Montez needs 77 passing yards to break CU’s career passing record. He has 9,492 career passing yards, second to Sefo Liufau (9,568 from 2013-16). Montez also needs 37 yards of total offense to pass Liufau for that record. Liufau has a slight edge of 10,509 to 10,473.