CLEMSON — Relationships are important to Kellen Jones.
When the four-star linebacker signee left Michigan last July under undisclosed circumstances before even enrolling, he quickly landed at Oklahoma.
While there, he grew a strong relationship with Brent Venables.
“We developed a really good bond,” Jones said. “He earned my trust.”
When Venables left Oklahoma to become Clemson’s defensive coordinator last January, Jones’ next move was a natural.
Jones followed Venables to the Upstate, and has turned heads while beginning his mandatory redshirt year required of transfers.
Venables said this month that Jones is like “a stick of dynamite.”
Even with a long fuse to burn, Jones wants to make sure he creates a major boom once he’s eligible next fall.
“It can be hard at times,” he said of the transfer year. “You know you’re doing well, you know you could possibly be out there. I just make the best of it, try and stay hungry. I stay positive and try to picture it as a redshirt year.
“ I still have things to learn with the defense. Coach V’s playbook is very complex, so learning other peoples’ positions can really help out. I try and take advantage of that and stay positive. “
Last fall, Jones made 10 tackles in 12 games while Oklahoma, the preseason No.1, suffered through a disappointing season.
Coach Bob Stoops brought in his brother, former Arizona coach Mike Stoops, to co-coordinate the defense with Venables. Subsequently, Venables decided running his own show at Clemson was a better option, and left for an $800,000 annual salary, replacing Kevin Steele.
During his recruitment, Jones saw an interview with Dabo Swinney and thought “he’d be a great guy to play for.”
Here was the perfect opportunity.
“Once I saw coach V leave,” he said, “I felt I was going to follow him from the get-go. Of course I didn’t want anyone else to know that.”
He looked at Arkansas, Purdue and Virginia, but Clemson felt like the best fit.
“Once I came here and took my visit, I knew Clemson was the place for me,” Jones said. “I wanted to go ahead and play for a coach I’m familiar with. I didn’t know coach Mike Stoops very well. He was bringing in a new defense, all new guys. I didn’t know him well.”
This fall, Jones, a former defensive end, is working at middle linebacker. He’s trying to polish his pass coverage and improve his overall leverage.
“I really want to make every play. I’m really physical,” he said. “ I feel like I can really bring a lot to the run game.”
For now, he’s just trying to fit in and help his old coach – and new team – in any way possible.
“I want to go ahead and do what’s best for the team. I’m not concerned about myself,” he said. “I just want to do what makes the team better. You win games ahead of time in college with competition. You always want to compete for a starting spot, for sure, but you’re trying to help your teammates.”