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    BLOG: When Freshmen Become Sophomores

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    * He was recruited by Texas A&M and, during his junior year at Houston's Westfield High School, even took an official visit to watch it play bitter rival Texas. "It was one of the coolest games I've ever been to. It was great," remembers 'Cat freshman receiver Christian Jones. But months later, during spring practice, he tore his ACL and the Aggies joined many others in backing off from their pursuit of him. "Somewhat. Yeah. Somewhat," he also remembers.

    So, we wonder, will he be looking to get back at them when the 'Cats meet the Aggies in the Dec. 31 Meineke Car Care Bowl?

    "It's not the revenge factor," Jones says. "My mother says it's the 'Told you so.' Or, 'Look what I've done.' Just the kind of thing of showing them what they missed. It's nothing against them. They're a great school. It's just another game and I've just got to go out and play as hard as I would any other game."

    But still, we urge?

    "But there would be a little bit of satisfaction in beating them or making something happen against them. No doubt about that," he finally does admit. "But I'm playing this game just to help the seniors go out with a win.

    * We had last talked to Jones back in October and after he was one of the few 'Cat bright spots during their loss to Michigan. For he had, against the Wolverines, not only finished with three catches for 66 yards. He had also flashed his enormous potential on one of them, a fly down the right sidelines that ended with him making the reception while his body was contorted and draped in a defender. After that, he would remember, "I felt myself getting into that mood. . .that I can go out and do anything I want."

    Now, some nine weeks later, we wonder if that feeling is still with him.

    "The last game we played, Michigan State, I had a feeling I haven't had. Against Michigan, I did feel it after the catch. But during Michigan State, the whole game I was just in that mode or in that mood where everything is moving slow and I can feel everything and I knew what was going to happen and anytime the ball was coming, I wasn't nervous or anything. I knew I was going to catch it."

    So is he a living example of that adage that a freshman is no longer a freshman at the end of the season?

    "Things have started to slow down," he says. "I've gotten a lot more comfortable out there on the field. The crowd doesn't get to me. Looking around and seeing the big stadium doesn't get to me anymore."

    But, we joke, has he adjusted to temperatures in the 30s?

    "I haven't gotten used to that yet," he admits with a laugh. "I'm still keeping two shirts on and three pairs of socks. So I have to get used to that. But other than that, I've adjusted very well."

    *Asked what he is most looking forward to on his return home, Jones replies, "I'd say seeing my mother again, being back home with my mother. And for her to not have to take a long trip to come see me play. It'll be just like it was in high school. She'll just have to make a nice, little 30-minute drive. She won't have to take off work or anything. That's one thing I'm looking forward to.". . . His mom, in fact, made it to Evanston for each of the home games this season, which Jones says, "Made me work as hard as I can to play as she does to make it to my games.". . . Needless to say, he was also asked about the Houston posse on the 'Cats. "We've been making so many plans," he says. "We've been making all the other guys mad with all the plans we've been making, telling them everything we're going to be doing." Like what? "There's a great mall downtown, The Galleria. We'll be around there, we'll be in downtown Houston, and we know a lot of other spots outside the city that we'll be going to. I don't know everything yet. But that's what we have so far.". . . Asked if there will be extra pressure playing at home, he finally says: "It's very exciting. It's more excitement than pressure. I've got a lot of friends back home who played for my team that want to come up, a lot of coaches back home and I know a couple people who go to Texas A&M. So it's going to be really fun. There is a little bit of pressure because there are going to be a lot of people who saw me play in high school. But it's more excitement than pressure."

    * Friday's practice featured a dust-up matching running back Tyris Jones against the tag team of linebacker David Nwabuisi and safety David Arnold. They ended up tossing some touches, piled on the ground and being pulled away from each other, but 'Cat coach Pat Fitzgerald would later shrug and simply say, "I'm all right with that. We should be at that point now. Nine practices in, we should be getting a little frisky. I think the guys are starting to get tired of hitting each other in the same colored jersey."

    We wonder if, nine practices in and the game still over two weeks away, practice fatigue is setting in.

    "I think you can," he says. "If we were to go all the way through to the bowl game, let's say we were playing earlier, I'd probably give them some time off. What I've seen over time, this is our fourth time doing it, it's right about now that we're kind of at the end of the rope, so to speak. We backed some things down a little bit today, we'll do it a little bit more tomorrow and then Monday's get-away day. Trying to keep their focus on Monday is a little bit more of a challenge than you'd like, but then they'll get home for four or five days, spend some time with family and friends, and kind of recharge a little bit, more mentally than physically. The way we go, we don't grind them up. So, yeah, I think you definitely can."

    We suggest, finally, that the current situation mirrors late August, when camp nears its end but the season opener is still two weeks away.

    "A little bit different, though," Fitzgerald concludes. "At that time, you're so paranoid. Now we know this team, we know who we are. So it's a little bit different. Prior to the first game, in camp, you really don't know who you are. Now I think we know a little bit more about this group."

    * And finally, as part of their bowl-week-in-Chicago celebration, the 'Cats hit Second City on Friday night.

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