WEST LAFAYETTE — After being asked a question about his freshman tailback Markell Jones earlier this season, Purdue coach Darrell Hazel leaned forward and looked down a row of his players who had been invited to the interview room.
At the end of the line was Jones.
“I didn’t even know Markell was here,” said Hazel, who then laughed a bit at the thought of his true freshman already being asked for comments by the media.
It makes sense that the press wants to hear what Jones, who set a state single-season rushing record at Columbus East in 2014, has to say. He appears to be the kind of recruit who could turn around the fortunes of a bad Purdue team.
Jones was one of the few bright spots in Purdue’s 51-24 home loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday. He had six rushes for 90 yards that included a 60-yard touchdown run.
Hazel said Jones, who graduated a semester early from East so he could participate in Purdue’s spring football session, has impressed him with how quickly he has absorbed the college game.
“The way he sees his reads, the way he gets into his passing routes, I’m a little bit amazed,” Hazel said.
Now Hazel might have to take the next step. Purdue has fallen to 1-2 and has only next Saturday’s game against Bowling Green before the Big Ten schedule begins with Michigan State.
So far, it appears that Hazel has been protective of Jones, using him as a backup to sophomore D.J. Knox, who has 46 carries for 209 yards, a 4.5 yards per carry average. In contrast, Jones is averaging 7.2 yards per carry and has 229 yards on 32 carries. Jones has scored three rushing touchdowns and one on a reception while Knox has tallied once.
Boilermaker fans have to be asking why Jones had just six carries Saturday, especially with an offensive line that has returned every starter from 2014. Is the next step to start Jones?
Jones said he will do whatever his coaching staff asks and he noted that his running backs coach, Jafar Williams, has done a great job preparing him for the major college level.
“Our whole staff does an excellent job getting us prepared to play,” Jones said.
It appears likely, though, that Hazell will stay with his fast-paced, pass-heavy offense that will rely most on the art of quarterback Austin Appleby.
For now, Purdue fans will need to be satisfied that Jones could be a workhorse back if needed and that he eventually could develop into one of the Big Ten’s top running backs.
With four touchdowns in his first three games, Jones hasn’t changed his own expectations, which were off the charts in high school.
“Personally,” he said. “I expect to score a touchdown every time I touch the football.”
SIZE: 5-foot-10, 207 pounds
STATS: Three games, 32 carries, 229 yards, 7.2 yards per carry average, 3 rushing TDS, 5 receptions, 33 yards, 1 TD
HIGH SCHOOL: Columbus East 2015 graduate