Florida International U

How he went from a basketball player to defensive end to FIU’s starting linebacker

In men’s basketball, you’re not going anywhere as a 6-3 center, which is what Tevin Jones was at Miami Norland.

That’s why Lawton Williams — who has won six state titles coaching Norland boys’ basketball — had a talk with Jones.

Correction: many talks.

“He only tried out for football after much prodding from me,” Williams said. “I kind of threatened him: ‘If you don’t play football, I won’t let you play basketball.’

“I didn’t mean it, but I had to get him out there. I saw his future when he didn’t.”

Jones’ future became much clearer Saturday night, when the 6-4, 230-pound redshirt sophomore earned his first collegiate start, playing in place of injured middle linebacker Sage Lewis, who has struggled the past several weeks due to a pulled hamstring.

In FIU’s 32-17 win over Texas-El Paso, Jones had a game-high nine tackles — impressive considering he didn’t play football until his junior year at Norland and didn’t have any stats his first two years with the Panthers.

Jones in 2017 was part of coach Butch Davis’ first FIU recruiting class.

At the time, Jones was a 195-pound defensive end, but Davis imagined his future as a linebacker.

“We scoured the entire state looking for linebackers,” said Davis, who also signed Jamal Gates, Romelo Brooks and Brandon James at the position that year. “In high school football, linebackers are limited because so many teams are playing empty [backfields]. Teams maybe play one linebacker.”

James is no longer at FIU, and Brooks is a backup while Gates starts at weak-side linebacker.

“Jones and Gates had the body style I was looking for — 6-2, 6-3 — and they could run,” Davis said. “They had pass-rush skills, so if you blitz them, it’s pretty natural.

“But learning to play coverage is the hardest thing. Tevin has come light years [in his development].”

Jones, who learned last Wednesday that he would likely start in place of Lewis, wasn’t exactly calm when he got the news.

“That was my first career start, so I was kind of nervous,” said Jones, a Criminal Justice major who runs a 4.6 40-yard dash. “[Gates] told me, ‘Don’t think too hard. Just play how you play, fast and physical.’

“I’m learning how not to take false steps and play my coverage right and how to stay low on tackles.”

THIS AND THAT

FIU starting safety Olin Cushion sat out Wednesday’s game due to a sprained ankle. Davis said Cushion was limited in practices last week but could’ve played against UTEP in an emergency, meaning his return should be near.

FIU’s men’s soccer team, ranked 12th nationally and boasting an undefeated record at 9-0-4, plays two road games this week: Tuesday at South Florida (8-4) and Friday at South Carolina (5-6-2). FIU will then conclude its regular season on Nov. 8 when Marshall visits.

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