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Saluki football Running backs will have more 'Pop' this fall

  • Pop Jones III

    Pop Jones III

 
By Marv Courson
Contributing Writer
updated: 7/18/2020 11:04 AM

I always keep an eye on the Saluki football roster for surprises, and I never come away disappointed. SIU head football coach Nick Hill has added two surprises recently that are bound to add more pop to the already potent running back spot.

SIU already has two stars coming back in All-American Javon Williams Jr. and sophomore Romeir Elliott. Both guys averaged near 6 yards per carry as true freshmen.

Last week, two surprises popped up on the football roster that will solidify SIU as the preeminent run team in the Valley. One surprise involved a current player changing from defense to offense, and the other was the addition of a running back whose name had been completely off my radar.

Changing from safety to running back was Justin Strong. Strong played intermittently at the strong safety position and got significant action in 2019. But I always thought Justin should have been tried on the offensive side, given his production in high school two years ago.

A former Belleville Althoff All-Stater, Strong ran for 948 yards as a senior. That's not astounding to some, but when you realize that he did so on just 76 carries, you realize his upside. He averaged more than 12 yards per carry!

Strong also adds size to the running back spot, especially if the 6-foot-1, 239-pound Williams is moved more to the quarterback position this fall. Elliott is strong and fast but measures only 5-foot-5 and 183 pounds.

Strong is, well, strong. He now plays at 6 feet and 212 pounds and can provide power running near the goal line. Also in the running backs room for 2020 after magically popping up on last week's version of the football roster is Robert Jones -- and he will really add some pop to the Saluki running back game.

That's not just because he is a fast and strong runner. It's also because he now goes by his nickname: "Pop." Pop Jones is an interesting story, and it has taken a year-long sojourn to complete that story.

His last high school year of competition was 2018, when he led his Cedar Grove High team to a 3A Georgia high school championship. He ran for 1,182 yards and 12 touchdowns on a loaded Cedar Grove team that went 10-1. He also had over 400 receiving yards.

Jones did what he needed to do to win. Witness that he ran for 25 touchdowns his junior year. His reduced production his senior season was in part because of the absolute beast of a defense that Cedar Grove had during Jones' last high school year. He really did not need to blast out 134.2 yards per game like he did in 2017.

Jones originally committed to Navy but finally settled on Army. That did not work out, so he sat out the 2019 season and moved on to SIU.

Now, the Saluki ground game has few excuses when it gets in an opponent's red zone. With Williams, Elliott, Strong and now Jones, Hill as a lot of choices to score seven points.