Keith "End Zone" Jones
Keith "End Zone" Jones lettered on the 1984, '85, '86, and '87 teams. He was an I-Back and recently inducted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame. This interview was done on July 27, 2004 by David Max.
DM Where are you from originally?
KJ Omaha, Nebraska. I went to Central High School.
DM Who recruited you to Nebraska?
KJ Besides Coach Osborne, a gentleman by the name of Cletus Fischer. At that time there wasn't any set rules as to how many times coaches could come in and visit with you. I would get some visits from Coach Osborne and Cletus Fischer. At that time it was really exciting, especially with a guy like Coach Osborne walking your hallways. It was not only exciting for me but it was exciting for the kids in the school.
DM Who else were you recruited by?
KJ I was recruited by some of the top schools. Washington Huskies, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, LSU and other Big 8 schools including Kansas and Iowa State.
DM Did you make any other recruiting trips?
KJ Absolutely. I went to Iowa State. I did not visit Oklahoma. I knew being a Nebraskan and a Husker fan that would be kind of off limits. I did take a trip out to Seattle, Washington. At the time the head coach was Don James. They had a beautiful campus. I thought he was a great coach at the time. A lot of folks don't know it but that visit made it a little more difficult to make my decision.
DM What tipped it toward Nebraska?
KJ I think the biggest thing was my family and friends getting a chance to see me play. Being close here at Nebraska and knowing the fan support that I have seen over the years of Nebraska football players. I didn't think there was any other place that would get the support that Nebraska fans do give.
DM What were the practices like?
KJ The practices at Nebraska were very repetitive. Sometimes you go through things and you go through the motion of doing things so consistently that you begin to think sometimes "Is this even worth us doing it?" I think the Coach Osborne philosophy and the coaching staff philosophy at Nebraska over the years of doing things on a very repetitive basis almost automatically develops you as an athlete to become almost like a robot. What I mean by that is things become very second nature to you when you practice and become consistent with what you're doing time after time after time. It makes you a bit more precise in your execution.
DM Who was your competition at I-Back?
KJ Boy, when I went to Nebraska I had a chance to size up my competition right off. Mike Rozier had just left and when I got there, there was a gentleman by the name of Jeff Smith and another gentleman, Doug Dubose, along with Paul Miles, Jon Kelly and a guy that came in with me by the name of Tyreese Knox.
DM Who was your position coach?
KJ Frank Solich was my position coach. We got along right off the bat. I think Coach Solich, with me being from Nebraska, had an infuence on my decision to come to Nebraska. I had pretty much looked at the running backs that had been through the system prior to myself and was not only impressed with the stats of the running backs in the past but also them getting a chance to go on and at least getting a shot to play in the NFL.
DM Do you have any teammate stories?
KJ There are a lot of them but one of the biggest stories that I have is about a gentleman who was my fullback one year named Ken Kaelin. It was during one of the first outdoor practices that we had in preparation for a bowl game. We had indoor facilities but we would go outside to run plays. We had started inside but ended up going outside to complete the practice. I remember we were a little sweaty and it was cold out. The air in those helmets gets very stiff and it's almost like those helmets are going to crack open. I recall making a comment to Ken Kaelin something like I thought my brain was freezing inside of my helmet because it was so cold out. Coach Osborne was walking by and he said "Coach, Keith thinks we should go back inside and finish practice because he feels like his brain is freezing!" I didn't see Coach Osborne laugh a lot but he started laughing and he just continued laughing and he was trying to ask me "What does it feel like to have your brain freeze?" We had a ball with it and that was one of the lighter moments that I recall as a young guy on the team and Coach Osborne and some of the upper classmen had a chance to laugh at my immaturity in the freezing cold.
DM Is there a particular regular season game that sticks out in your memory?
KJ There's a few. I remember going out to Colorado and playing those guys my senior year. They always slated us as their bowl game each year if they weren't going to make a bowl. They would pretty much challenge us and let us know whenever we came out there it was going to be a ball game. They were dressed in all black and doing what they could to try and intimidate us but our coaching staff and Coach Osborne would tell us that it doesn't matter how a team is dressed or what they say in the paper the bottom line is when you go out and start playing the game is how you control the game and the plays that you make is going to affect the outcome. I remember rushing for 247+ yards and scoring three touchdowns. That really put the icing on the cake for my career at Nebraska especially going against an opponent like Colorado at the time.
DM Do you have any "in the huddle" memories?
KJ I recall a game my senior year in 1987 playing in Tempe, Arizona against the Sun Devils and they had a very good team that year. Steve Taylor was the quarterback and it was close to the end of the game and they were pretty much exchanging blows with us. As an offensive unit we decided that we HAVE to take the ball down there and score. I remember Steve Taylor taking control on that particular series. One particular play we had an option to the left and all the players were in agreement about "Let's get a hat on everybody and let's make this play go the distance and win this game and get out of here." I remember the play starting off to the left and I cut it back to the right and racing for 70 something yards and a guy pushed me out on about the three yard line. The next play Steve Taylor took it in for the score.
DM Do you have a favorite Tom Osborne story?
KJ One of the things that I remember most about Coach Osborne was after my career at Nebraska. I believe it was at a FCA banquet at the Bob Devaney Center. I think it was after he had won a National Championship he made the statement that all of the championsips and all of the wins and record sellouts that they were proud of was not as important as the thing that he was most proud of which was his family. Being honorable and commited to his wife and his family was the most important thing. For me, being a young man who had left the University and played a few years in the NFL and strived to accumulate a few things and accomplish things his statement showed me that sometimes you lose focus on the things that are the most important. That was a chance for me to regroup and put things back into perspective. I will always remember that and I think that has helped me to become the person that I am today.
DM What was your best bowl game memory?
KJ It would have to be the Sugar Bowl in 1985 in New Orleans. Neil Smith was down in that area and his mom cooked a lot of Cajun food for the guys. That was the first bowl game that I had been to and that was so much fun and exciting. He showed us around the town and we got to meet some of his family and got to eat some of that good New Orleans Cajun food. It kind of spoiled me because that was my first bowl game and I was kind of expecting that the next year when we went out to Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl but nobody was from there so we were kind of on our own that year.
DM You were recently elected to the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame. What does that mean to you?
KJ Oh, man. Out of all the things that I have accomplished, when they called me with that announcement I reflected back on my high school years and a little bit on my little league years and the years that I had spent in the NFL. I kind of took the moment to look back and appreciate the things that I had worked so hard for as an athlete and that it was being recognized. Out of all those things being elected to the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame is definetly the biggest by far and the most rewarding thing that I can think of. I'm honored and I really appreciate those that think I deserve that. It's really a great honor. (The induction dinner is Sept. 10th and there will be a ceremony at the Southern Illinois game on Sept. 11th).
DM What was the transition like going to the NFL?
KJ Playing at Nebraska the transition was not that difficult at all. I just feel like at that particular moment when I went into the NFL a lot of the repetitions that I talked about earlier was exactly the way it was in the NFL. The biggest thing that I had to adjust to was the speed of the game. Things are done at a much faster pace when you talk about practice and games.
DM Who all did you play for?
KJ I was drafted by the Rams and from there I played with the Cleveland Browns and finished my career with the Dallas Cowboys. I played for five years and qualified for the retirement program.
DM Do you have any NFL memories?
KJ Playing with the Rams we played in the NFL Hall of Fame game against Cleveland and scoring the only touchdown for our team was kind of exciting for me. That was a televised game. In Cleveland one of the most memorable games was against the New York Jets where I scored one of my first NFL touchdowns. Another one was playing in the NFC Championship game against the Denver Broncos. I will always remember that. We beat them twice in the season and we pretty much knew we had their number and Elway did his thing and they beat us by two touchdowns.
DM Do you still stay in touch with teammates that you played with?
KJ I still stay in touch with Ken Kaelin and Steve Taylor. Jon Kelly who is a celebrity in his own right on Entertainment Tonight and he does interviews with your Halle Barre's and your Tom Cruise's and all your big stars. He has had a very successful career. I've touched base with Emmitt Smith a couple of times and a guy by the name of Tommy Agee when I played in Dallas.
DM What is your assessment of this years team?
KJ I would have to call them the unpredictables. I say that because the system that they are implementing now is a great system. No one really knows how they are going to execute that system. My personal opinion is that they are going to do very well. I just believe that football is football and with this system all you are doing is changing the plays. Nebraska has always had great athletes and they have great athletes now and I think the guys as they go into fall camp will get all the repetitions that they need. When it comes game time I think they will be fine. They will execute the system just fine. I think they have a great coaching staff down there and those coaches that they have put together is a coaching staff that can make things happen. I think that is what a lot of people fail to really look at. These are guys that have known football for awhile and they have experienced success and I think they will do a great job this season.
DM Is there anything else that you would like to comment about?
KJ I would like to thank the voters that vote for the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame. Personally, to all the fans in Nebraska that supported me, a big thank you out to them. Without that support, and even that continued support today, when I get people that walk up to me and ask for an autograph or say "Hey, you gave us great memories." That's important. When you get that from fans on a continuous basis it means a lot. Being a guy from Nebraska, born and raised right here, that really means a whole lot. Not just to me but to my family also.
DM What are you doing now?
KJ Right now I work full time with Lens Crafters in the optical industry as a general manager. I have a small business with Husker BBQ Sauce that I do with a former teammate. I'm always looking for opportunites to further myself. I try to keep myself challenged and busy with doing different things.
DM Keith, thanks for sharing your Husker memories with us.
This series of interviews is being done in conjunction with the Bob Terrio Classic. Keith Jones can be reached at this email.