In this Oct. 18 file photo, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Landry Jones prepares to pass during a game against the Arizona Cardinals in Pittsburgh. With Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Vick unlikely to play today, unproven Jones should get the nod against an angry bunch of Kansas City Chiefs. (AP Photo)
New Mexico isn’t known for producing NFL players, but now and then a standout makes their way from the Land of Enchantment to the League.
Everyone knows the name Brian Urlacher. He played his high school ball in Lovington where he played several positions, but was mostly used as a receiver. He led the Wildcats to an undefeated season and a 3A state title. He went on to define the “Lobo-back” position at the University of New Mexico, finishing his college career with 442 tackles, 11 sacks and 11 forced fumbles.
Urlacher was drafted by the Chicago Bears with the ninth overall pick and went on to play 182 games, missing only two starts in 184 games and was named to eight Pro Bowl teams.
Older football fans will remember the name Paul Smith, a defensive end who played for Roswell High in the early 1960s, went on to play for UNM and was then drafted by the Denver Broncos where he made two Pro Bowls as a member of the “Orange Crush Defense” and was eventually inducted into the Bronco’s Ring of Fame.
Other players such as running back Tim Smith (Hobbs, Texas Tech, Washington Redskins) and wide receiver Hank Baskett (Clovis, UNM, Philadelphia Eagles) have made an impact in the NFL as well, but as all fans know, the most important position in football is the quarterback.
Now it’s Artesia-native Landry Jones’ turn, as the young quarterback is tentatively slated to start for the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday.
The Steelers will take on the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, known for having one of the loudest crowds and being one of the tougher places to play. Regular starter Ben Roethlisberger has made a limited return to practice this week, but all signs point to Jones getting the nod.
Last week, with Michael Vick leaving the game against Arizona in the third quarter with a hamstring injury, Jones entered the game and led the Steelers to two touchdowns and two field goals in a 25-13 win. In his first regular-season action in his career, Jones was 8 of 12 for 168 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Jones had a bad pass or two, but overall he protected the ball, made quick decisions, and looked very poised for a third-string quarterback getting his first taste of NFL action.
Current Artesia head coach Cooper Henderson said he was not surprised that Jones was able to make the most of his chance to play.
“He’s always worked as hard as he can to prepare himself for the opportunity,” he said. “I think Landry is one of those guys that no doubt has talent or he wouldn’t be where he is today, but he also has a great work ethic.”
Jones was born on April 4, 1989 in Artesia. In the City of Champions, few players get the chance to start early in their high school football career, but when Jones was handed the reins of the potent Bulldog offense in his junior year, he made the most of his opportunity.
Henderson also recalled his former player’s dedication to improving his game.
“In high school, he spent extra time coming in early to work on his feet,” he said. “He played basketball and other sports, but did those extra things throughout the year that make you better.”
In his two years as field general, Jones led the Bulldogs to two Class 4A state titles and etched his name in the New Mexico football record books. Jones is fifth and sixth on the season passing touchdown list with 45 in 2006 and 44 in 2007. He’s fourth on the career passing touchdown list with 96 and fifth for passing yards with 7,680. In his final high school game, the 2007 state championship against Goddard, Jones threw 7 touchdown passes in route to a 58-31 victory.
Jones was recruited by many schools, including Colorado, Oregon, UCLA and Wisconsin, but ultimately chose the University of Oklahoma, an offensive powerhouse in the high scoring Big 12 Conference. Jones redshirted his freshman year and took over starting duties in the second game of the 2009 season after Sam Bradford was injured.
In his second start, Jones threw six touchdown passes, a Sooner-record, in a 45-0 rout of Tulsa. After a loss against Miami the next week, Bradford returned to the starting role but was again injured early in that years Red River Shootout with Texas at the Cotton Bowl. Jones stepped in once again and managed to tie the game with a touchdown pass in the third quarter, but the Sooners lost on a late field goal by the Longhorns.
Jones remained the starter for the rest of the season and picked up wins against Kansas, Kansas State and Texas A&M, but also showed his inexperience with losses to Nebraska and Texas Tech.
In 2010, Jones led the Sooners to big wins against rivals Texas and Oklahoma State. In the Big 12 Championship Game, facing rival Nebraska, Jones led his team to a 23-20 comeback victory and went on to beat Connecticut 48-20 in the Fiesta Bowl, the Sooners’ first BCS win 2002.
“It was always fun to go watch Landry play in those bowl games,” said Henderson. “To reach that level of success, you have to be a great leader.”
After an up and down 2011 season, which saw huge wins against Texas and Florida State and some tough losses to Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, Jones announced he would return for his senior year.
In 2012, Jones led the Sooners to a share of the conference crown with Kansas State and a matchup with former Big 12 rival Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl Classic. Jones ended his OU career with 16,646 passing yards and 123 touchdowns.
Jones currently sits third all-time for passing yards and completions, and sixth for passing scores in college football history.
Jones was drafted by Pittsburgh in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft and signed a four-year, $2.59 million contract.
Whether or not Jones starts this Sunday will probably not be known until shortly before game time, but either way, Henderson said Artesia fans are proud of their hometown boy.
“I’m just excited for him to have the opportunity and I think we definitely have a lot more Steelers fans in the area now,” he said. “I wish him the best and I know he will do us proud. He’s a high character person and has a great testimony.”
Henderson said he speaks to Jones now and then and sends him a text after games, but knows that his former MVP doesn’t need his old coach’s advice.
“Landry is pretty low-key and level-headed, which is what has made him the quarterback he is,” he said. “He has plenty of people giving him advice these days, so I’m just enjoying watching him continue to succeed. He controls what he can, and I don’t have any idea what they will or won’t let him do, but he’ll be ready.”