IOWA CITY, Iowa - It’s one thing to work hard. But to do it when no one is watching? That’s called a coach’s dream.
You can find one of them on Iowa’s roster. He wears No. 16. His name is Charlie Jones, a senior wide receiver and punt returner.
“First and foremost, Charlie is an incredible, insane worker,” said LeVar Woods, Iowa’s special teams coordinator. “Even when the coaches are off, and no one is in the building, you walk in and Charlie’s here. He’s here doing a thousand push-ups, a thousand sit-ups, he’s catching balls and punts off the Jugs gun.”
Or you might catch him fielding punts off the foot of Tory Taylor, his roommate. “Charlie and Tory are always out here,” Woods said. “Tory is punting them, and Charlie is catching them.”
That gives you a glimpse of how fast the motor runs inside Jones, who left a season of eligibility on the table when he decided to leave the University at Buffalo and give Big Ten football a shot at Iowa.
“It definitely was a tough decision,” Jones said. “I was on scholarship there. I came here as a walk-on. A hard decision for me and my family. But I knew this is what I wanted to do. And this is a great program, one that rewards people who work hard. I’m still learning every day. And I just hope to get the opportunity to show what I’ve been working on.”
Jones has impressed the Iowa coaches enough to earn a scholarship. His hello world Kinnick moment came against Michigan State on Nov. 7, 2020. He returned a punt 54 yards for a touchdown late in the second quarter of the 49-7 victory. For the game, he returned five punts for 105 yards. He also had two carries for 38 yards.
“It might have been a surprise to everyone else, because no one knew who he was,” Woods said. “And he hadn’t done it here at Iowa. But I don’t think anyone on this team saw that as a surprise.”
Jones, from Deerfield, Ill., would have jumped at a scholarship offer from Iowa as a high school senior. But it never came. Jones shuffled off to Buffalo, where he redshirted in 2017. The next season, he made a significant contribution to a 10-4 team that reached the title game of the MAC Championship and played in the Dollar General Bowl. Jones finished the season with 18 catches for 395 yards and three touchdowns. He also returned 15 kickoffs for 289 yards, with a long of 43 yards.
But Jones wanted more. He had the burning desire to prove himself at a higher level, and Iowa gave him that opportunity.
He hadn’t returned punts since high school, but Woods saw Jones had potential to do just that. “High school was totally different from college,” said the 6-foot, 188-pound Jones. “They did a great job of preparing me for that position here. I put the time in and just worked on my craft.” A season later, Jones won’t be flying under the radar at Kinnick Stadium any more. “He’s still the same guy from a workload standpoint, with the same approach, so that part is refreshing,” Woods said. “Now, can we as a staff help him get better? And how can the rest of the unit help him, whether it’s finishing blocks or creating a better seam for him. That’s the trick moving forward.”
Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz has also hinted that Jones is in the mix for a spot in the wide receiver rotation. He had no receptions last season.
“I’m excited to finally get those opportunities as a receiver, and help the team as much as I can,” Jones said.
He said he’ll pursue that opportunity “by coming out here and trying to focus on one thing a day. Any chance I get to put in extra work, I’ll do it whenever I can. We have a really good mix in the wide receiver room. We’re learning something from each and every play.” He’s working to improve as a punt returner, too. And Taylor is giving him an assist. Taylor came from Australia last season having never seen a football game until he played in the 2020 opener at Purdue. He finished the season third in the Big Ten and 20th in the nation with an average of 44.1 yards per kick.
“He’s learned a lot in the last year,” Jones said. “He’s not afraid to ask something. He’s really been a student of the game.”
When they work out together, Jones will request certain punts to field - left, right, high, low - and Taylor delivers.
“We work pretty well together,” Jones said. “He’s one of my best friends. We come out here all the time. I’ll help him with some stuff he needs. At the end I’ll ask him, “Hey, can you do this for me?’ He’s a great guy to work with and he’s really helped me progress as a punt returner.” The desire to improve remains a Jones trait, much like Woods has described. “The road hasn’t always been easy for me,” Jones said. “I pride myself in the way I work. I really want this. I want to be successful and help the team as much as I can.”