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Notre Dame

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Pinstripe Bowl
Notre Dame vs. Rutgers
When: Noon Saturday
Where: Yankee Stadium

Reluctant nose guard excels for Notre Dame

– Jarron Jones wanted no part of where Notre Dame needed him to play on defense.

When the Irish arrived at the final two weeks of the season, they needed to find someone to play nose guard.

Louis Nix III was lost for the season to knee surgery Nov. 21, and his backup, Kona Schwenke, was limited after spraining his ankle in a 38-34 win over Navy on Nov. 2.

So it was up to Jones, who mainly played on special teams and was even demoted to scout team for a time in the middle of the season to help fill the void in the final home game of the season against BYU on Nov. 23.

“When I first moved to it, I hated it,” Jones said of playing nose guard. “Just looking at (Nix) every day, you could just see it. You got to be very physical to play that position.”

Despite his reservations, Jones came through against the Cougars. The 6-foot-5, 305-pounder had seven tackles and blocked a field goal in a 23-13 win.

Jones then had four tackles in a 27-20 loss to Stanford in the season finale Nov. 30.

While he has only played a prominent role in two games, Jones said he has discovered a passion for playing nose guard as the No. 25 Irish (8-4) get ready to go to his home state to play Rutgers (6-6) in the Pinstripe Bowl on Saturday in Yankee Stadium.

“I just feel natural at it,” said Jones, who is from Rochester, N.Y. “There is stuff I need to work on, but it’s a lot of fun. … I feel more comfortable there.”

Jones likely wouldn’t have had much of chance to find a comfort zone at nose guard if not for a preseason injury to former Bishop Dwenger standout Tony Springmann, and the wakeup call Jones got when the Irish were preparing to play USC on Oct. 19.

Springmann, who was used at defensive end and nose guard as a sophomore, was lost before his junior season because of a dislocated left knee. Coach Brian Kelly said Saturday that Springmann, who also dealt with an infection after surgery that slowed his rehab, is moving around but won’t start practicing again until the fall.

But more important than having a spot open on the defensive line depth chart, Jones proved to the coaches he wanted to play after spending time on the scout team.

“He got mad,” Schwenke said. “He had a look in his eye. He just dominated the whole the team, period (at practice); I feel like ever since then it has just been up hill.”

Kelly said he sees the same bright future for Jones, a sophomore who had 18 tackles in 11 games this season and has positioned himself to take over Nix’s spot in the starting lineup next season.

“I think if you are looking at guys that have the ability to go in there and compete at a high level, I think Jarron is slowly getting to that point where we are getting confident that he can go in there and compete at a high level,” Kelly said.

“He still physically has to get stronger. His volume has got to continue to grow. We feel pretty confident that he can go in there and do some good things for us in ’14.”