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Jones Lands Full-Tuition Scholarship
0515  Jones Scholarship
The proud faces of, at far left, father Dennis Jones, mother Synthia Jones, along with coach Trent Merzon, far right, accompany Oakdale senior Austin Jones, who will play football at Willamette University and utilize a full-tuition academic scholarship. IKE DODSON/THE LEADER

The hulking frame of 6 foot, 2 inch 225-pound senior receiver/tight end Austin Jones made for a spectacular target for Oakdale High classmate Spencer Thomas, and will be an asset for Willamette University quarterbacks, going forward.

According to his father, Dennis Jones, the standout Oakdale athlete has accepted a full tuition academic scholarship and will join the Willamette football team this fall. Willamette features a prestigious NCAA Division III program and is in Salem, Oregon. Jones will suit up for the gold and cardinal Bearcats, with intentions to make the starting lineup as a slot receiver.

It’s a stiff challenge for the standout Mustang football player who was named to the Division II All-State Team, was a second-team offense selection for the All-State Medium School Team and led the Mustang receivers with over 1,000 yards and 14 total touchdowns.

Jones’ talents were a big reason Oakdale was able to rally to a 14-2 season that included a Valley Oak League championship, a Sac-Joaquin Section championship, a Northern California State Title and appearance in the Division II California Interscholastic Federation Bowl Game.

“We targeted him over 100 times this year,” Oakdale coach Trent Merzon said. “That’s a lot of balls to throw at one guy.

“He made big plays down the stretch and we would not have been able to make that run without him.”

Merzon said he was impressed with Jones’ maturity as the season progressed, pointing to several clutch catches Jones made in Oakdale’s 42-19 win over dangerous American Canyon in the SJS semifinals. Jones caught and threw a touchdown in that win, then caught six balls for 128 yards and two scores two weeks later in the NorCal championship game.

Jones’ ability to work upfield and shake off tackles was a tremendous advantage for the Oakdale offense throughout the season. His rare combination of strength, size and speed (clocked at a 4.89 40-yard dash) made for a daunting obstacle for opposing defenses.

“He was basically a tight end that could play receiver,” Merzon said. “What’s most valuable about Austin is what he does with the ball in his hands.

“I’m not sure what Willamette wants to do offensively but he is going to provide their school with some versatility, because he can be physical and block or be a receiver.”

Willamette coaches were the victors of a recruitment process that also included generous scholarship offers from Southwest Baptist University (Missouri), Montana Western and College of Idaho.

“Basically I decided to take that scholarship because I feel I am going to a highly regarded academic school that will give me better opportunities when I graduate and find myself a job,” Jones said. “It’s a way to make myself more marketable.”

Jones met with Willamette coaches during a recruiting trip, and also credited the dazzling campus and West Coast location to his selection process. He said the football program plans to utilize him as a receiver to join their four-receiver spread offense that competes in the Northwest Conference.

Willamette was 4-2 in the Northwest last year, with an impressive 8-2 overall mark. The program should be tough again in 2013, under the direction of soon-to-be senior quarterback Josh Dean, Willamette’s school-record holder for single-game touchdowns (six) and season marks of completions (273), attempts (422), touchdown passes (34) and passing yards (3,345).

“Obviously I have to get faster and stronger if I want to play college football,” Jones said. “I plan on working hard in the offseason and I have every intention of getting on the field and starting as a freshman.”

Though Jones admits he is ready to begin the next chapter of his life, he said he is upset he won’t be able to play Oakdale football anymore.

“Oakdale football was a huge part of my life and made me who I am today,” Jones said. “I formed friendships for four years and I will miss the teammates that I played with.”

Austin is the younger brother of Mustang graduate and current Davis & Elkins College softball standout Alanna Jones, who was recently named a first-team All-Conference pitcher for the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

The siblings are the children of Dennis and Synthia Jones of Valley Home.