Senior safety Zach Jones is a rare commodity at UC Davis.
He has never missed a game during his productive four-year career with the Aggies.
That’s saying something for a program that has endured its share of injuries to key players during the past three seasons.
Several starters are expected to be sidelined when UCD (1-5, 0-3) hosts Northern Colorado (3-2, 1-1) in a Big Sky Conference homecoming game on Saturday at Aggie Stadium.
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But Jones is expected to play in his 41st consecutive game for the Aggies, an amazing feat considering he goes all-out in practice and games.
“As a coach, you love to have to reel guys in at practice instead of telling them to pick it up,” said UC Davis coach Ron Gould. “I’m constantly having to say, ‘Hey, Zach, back off.’ ”
Despite his pedestrian stature, the 6-foot, 200-pound Jones hits like sledgehammer.
“When he gets right to you, he can pull the trigger, and you feel it,” Gould said. “You cringe because of how hard he hits.”
Jones admits his ferocity comes from a chip on his shoulder.
You cringe because of how hard he hits.
UC Davis coach Ron Gould
He was the Monticello Empire League’s Back of Year and an All-Sac-Joaquin Section pick at Napa High School. Overlooked by four-year colleges, Jones walked on at UCD, which has since given him a full scholarship.
“Recruiters kept telling me I was too small for Division I,” Jones said. “So I always have that chip on my shoulder because they thought I wasn’t good enough. I’m not necessarily trying to prove them wrong. I’m just proving to myself I can play at this level.”
Despite his ironman status, Jones is not invincible. He’s had his share of bumps and bruises throughout his career and wore a cast on his right hand at Thursday’s practice. It will be removed for Saturday’s game.
“It’s been a battle to stay on the field,” Jones said. “There’s always an injury going on, but I get as much rehab as I can during the week and do whatever I need to do in practice so I can play on Saturday. Then I play on adrenaline. No matter what pain I’m going through, I don’t want to let my teammates down.”
Jones has made a team-high 37 tackles, forced three fumbles and intercepted a pass. Because of injuries, he also has played linebacker this season.
Jones said his time at Napa High as a two-way star prepared him well for multitasking on defense. He played cornerback and safety on defense for the Indians, and was a running back, wide receiver and quarterback on offense.
“His versatility is something that is great for us,” Gould said. “We put him at ‘Sam’ backer and in the same game (against Southern Utah) we put him back at safety. For him to be able to conceptualize all the nuances with both positions and still play fast speaks volumes about his intellect.”
The Aggies’ defense has struggled this season. They are last in the Big Sky in scoring defense (43.0 points per game) and second-to-last in total yards allowed (499.5).
I’m not necessarily trying to prove them wrong. I’m just proving to myself I can play at this level.
UC Davis safety Zach Jones, on recruiters who said he was too small
But they were buoyed by their performance in a 24-3 loss at Southern Utah last Saturday. The Aggies had a season-high four sacks and held the Thunderbirds to a season-low 260 total yards despite missing injured starting linebackers Russell Reeder and Brady Stibi.
“We were allowing teams five to seven big plays a game of 40 yards or more,” Jones said. “But now we’re really starting to click.”