His minutes as a college football player dwindling to a precious few, Jered Jones suddenly perked up as he returned to the sideline.
Haskell Indian Nations University’s senior center was informed he would be playing tailback on the next series.
“I had no idea,” Jones said. “It was a special treat. I’ve been dreaming of carrying the ball my whole life.”
And so, with the Fightin’ Indians lagging 43-0 to Peru State in the season finale Saturday at Haskell Stadium, there was No. 69 lugging the ball up the middle.
On his first carry, the 5-foot-11, 230-pounder from Eufaula, Okla., gained a yard. On his second attempt, he was stuffed. Then on his third and final tote, Jones barreled for two yards.
“I was a spin away from scoring,” Jones said with a grin. “I should have spun. I’d have been out of the gate.”
Never in high school and never in college had Jones carried a football, but, he stressed, it was about time.
“I’ve been telling them I could do it all year long,” he said with a big smile.
Coach Eric Brock was smiling, too, when talking about the lone senior on his roster.
“He’s always been a little undersized to play the line,” HINU Brock said of Jones, “but he’s one of the toughest guys we’ve had here.”
Jones’ surprising mop-up stint at tailback had no impact on the game, of course, but it did ease the sting of ending the season on a five-game losing streak.
As has happened often during Haskell’s 10 years as a member of the NAIA, the Indians basically ran out of bodies late in the season because of injuries and attrition.
Brock suited just 39 players Saturday, and he lost two of them — running back Caleb Childers and lineman Jake Nelson — to injuries during the game.
Brock refused to use injuries as an excuse for the Indians’ 3-7 record, however.
“Yeah, we’ve had a lot of guys banged up,” Brock said after the conclusion of his eighth season at HINU. “But I point the finger at myself. I need to recruit better guys.”
And retain them. Rarely does Brock have more than a dozen upperclassmen. Usually the majority of his roster is composed of freshmen and sophomores.
“It’s about getting those juniors and sophomores to come back,” he said. “We need to keep freshmen off the field. But it’s still me. If 30 guys are going to quit, I need to bring in 60.”
Peru State finished with a 7-4 record in knocking off Haskell for the fourth straight year.