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HOUSTON -- Sitting inside the cafeteria at Cullen Middle School in Houston's Third Ward, Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones waited patiently, probably wondering if the trip associated with the Lombardi Awards would be worth his time.
Jones was alongside Miss Texas USA, Ali Nugent, and South Carolina defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney, and the trio figured the goal was to outlast the myriad of Houston Texans- and beauty pageant-related questions before they could share a planned final message.
Not realizing they were talking to a pair of future NFL players, the kids riddled Jones and Clowney with questions about current events.
Have you met Arian Foster? Do you know any Texans? Do you know any middle linebackers?
Finally, one of the preteen audience members asked a question that Jones felt was up his alley -- it was intended for Nugent.
Is it OK if I don't finish high school?
"No, not at all," Jones said, grabbing the microphone from Miss Texas.
That was when the child and family development major gave an honest answer usually unseen on publicity trips surrounding college football awards.
He extended his left hand and pointed at the girl who asked.
"You have every opportunity to make your life better," Jones said sternly, passionately. "You have teachers who want to help you, and you can never have enough mentors to help you on your journey. Not finishing high school is not an option if you want to have a better life.
"Everything is up to you, and you have no excuses because you have everything you need to make something of yourself."
While it teetered on cliché and was somewhat expected, Jones continued with this message throughout the rest of the assembly. He took the lead in the question-and-answer session, responding each time with conviction.
How hard is it to get a scholarship?
"Well, I got an athletic scholarship," he said. "Those are pretty hard to get, but you can get all kinds of scholarships for academics. You have to get good grades to get those, though, and that is all up to you. Working hard and studying."
What do you plan to do if you make the NFL?
"I plan on working hard and being great," Jones said. "I also plan on setting up a scholarship fund and giving back. I think it is important to help people where I can."
Jones was the No. 72-ranked prospect in the class of 2009. He was a four-star prospect from Columbus (Ga.) Carver who elected to go to USC.
After sustaining a neck injury during his freshman year and transferring to Georgia, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, first-team All-SEC selection, All-American and finalist for the Nagurski, Bednarik, Butkus and Lombardi awards looks back on his decision to attend USC as the correct one.
"I was looking for a mentor," he said. "I really believe that you should always be trying to surround yourself with people who have done what you want to do.
"I went to USC because of Ken Norton. He was a mentor for me. He played a long time in the league, won the Super Bowl; he was an educated and well-spoken man. I really looked up to him for already going through all of the things I wanted to go through."
Jones has 77 tackles this season, despite missing two games with an injury. He has 22.5 tackles for a loss and 12.5 sacks.
His head coach, Mark Richt, gave him glowing praise during a press conference this season.
"I can't think of a better player than Jarvis in the whole United States of America," Richt said. "He's the best."
Jones was shut out for postseason awards and has one game left in college when Georgia takes on Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl.
Following the conclusion of his college career, Jones said, he wants to walk his talk.
"It means a lot to me to follow through on what I said I would do," Jones said. "It was important to me to have a mentor, and it is important for me to be a good example."
Anthony Dasher has covered Jones on the field for UGASports.com and said that the actions in Houston are carried over from what Jones does around campus.
"It is never about Jarvis, and it wasn't a show just for the awards," Dasher said. "He has actively gone to schools in the area and talked to kids. He is one of the most humble guys, and he believes what he is saying."
Part of the reason that Jones is a good steward is the loss of his older brother in a shooting when Jones was in eighth grade.
In January 2005, Darcell Kitchens went out to celebrate his birthday and never returned. He was shot and killed outside of a bar at the age of 19.
Jones said that he blamed himself for a long time and that he was slow to make the strides that got him to where he is now.
"It has been a long road," Jones said. "I turned a lot of negative actions into motivation."
Dasher said the tragic loss has spurred one of the best feel-good stories at Georgia.
"Jarvis is such a great person he has really put himself on a pedestal when he is discussed among fans," Dasher said. "The last great player and person here may have been David Pollack, and I think Jarvis has elevated himself higher than that."
With the lone game on the schedule remaining, Jones can supplant Pollack on the field as well. Jones needs two sacks to pass Pollack as the single-season leader for Georgia.
If Jones accomplishes that feat, according to Dasher, he will likely deflect attention.
"He won't talk about himself," Dasher said. "It is the type of guy he is.
"He is a good guy who wants to work hard and talk about how it helped everyone get better."
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