Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham stared at the not-so-broken linebacker sitting across from him at a Cracker Barrel in Athens, and made his pitch. Since coming from the Dallas Cowboys five months earlier, Grantham had built a 3--4 defense from the inside out. He had space-eating nosetackles. He had fast-twitch defensive ends. He had stout inside linebackers. He needed a hybrid—a linebacker like Cowboys All-Pro DeMarcus Ware—who could rush the passer, stuff the run and cover wide receivers. Grantham thought Jarvis Jones could be that sort of game-changer, although to fill that role Jones needed one trait that couldn't be measured by any drill.
Grantham knew Ware succeeded because he kept attacking no matter the down or the score or the time of game. From what he'd seen on tape, Grantham felt Jones had the skills to be the same type of player, but could he be as relentless? He would have to be fueled by an inner fire so hot that no 300-pound tackle, no bullnecked fullback, no configuration of double teams could block him for an entire game.
Grantham had no idea how fiercely Jones's fire blazed.
WHEN THE FIFTH-RANKED Bulldogs face No. 6 South Carolina on Saturday in Columbia, Jones will have to handle all of the above tasks plus one more. Georgia coach Mark Richt says the 6'3", 241-pound Jones makes the perfect spy to shadow quarterbacks who can run and throw. The Gamecocks' Connor Shaw fits that description. The last time the Bulldogs faced such a dual threat, Jones terrorized Missouri's James Franklin with an interception, two sacks and two forced fumbles. The redshirt junior leads Georgia with eight tackles for loss, 4½ sacks and 14 quarterback pressures, statistics that fail to reflect all the double teams, chip blocks and other ways that offensive coordinators scheme to put distance between Jones and whoever has the ball.
But no game plan can prevent Jones from closing his eyes on the field and talking to Darcell Kitchens. That's how Jones stokes that fire—by imagining a conversation with the brother he believes he could have saved. If only he'd prevented the celebratory trip to a bar that ended one life and changed another forever.
It was Jan. 8, 2005, and as another lazy Saturday in rural Stewart County, Ga., drew to a close, Jones, then an eighth-grader, and Kitchens stood on the street near their mother's house. Midnight struck, and Kitchens turned 19. A car pulled up and Kitchens approached. An invitation was extended. Before Kitchens stepped into the car, he turned back and yelled to his brother.
"Do you want me to stay?" Kitchens asked. No, Jones replied. He didn't want to cramp his older brother's style. "I'll see you in the morning," Kitchens said before the car pulled away.
Kitchens wound up at the Gypsy Tea Room and Lounge, a dingy bar in Richland. That's where he ran into Nakiedrian Garrett, also 19. Garrett was drunk, and he accused Kitchens of breaking into his grandmother's house. Kitchens suggested the men discuss the matter outside. Garrett had a gun. Kitchens did not. There, on Church Street, two shots rang out. Kitchens, with one .38-caliber bullet hole in his chest and another in his back, staggered into the bar, fell to the floor and died.
A few minutes after the shooting, a friend's sister delivered the news to Jones, and he collapsed atop her car. "I felt like I had lost everything," Jones says. That night he began asking himself why, and he hasn't stopped since. Why didn't he tell Kitchens to stay? Why did he let him get into that car? Why did his brother have to die?
On the first floor of the Stewart County Courthouse in Lumpkin, photos of Jones hang in almost every office. They are proud of their native son, but they are glad he got away. Many of the county's 5,910 residents are stuck in a financial struggle that provides little hope for advancement but ample opportunities for trouble. The county is one of the poorest in Georgia, with a median household income of $30,954, almost $20,000 below the state average. When Jones discusses where he came from, he says simply, "There ain't nothin' going on there for a young black man."