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BERKELEY -- The first two college games senior wide receiver Marvin Jones ever saw featured the same two teams: California and Oregon.
In 2006, Jones was in the Memorial Stadium stands as DeSean Jackson weaved his way to a 65-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 36-yard touchdown reception. It was that moment that kindled his interest in both the Bears and the Ducks.
One year later, Jones was in the stands in Autzen Stadium for his official visit, as Cal snatched victory from Oregon in the form of a forced fumble in the end zone, courtesy Marcus Ezeff.
A week after that, Jones was back in Berkeley, watching Kevin Riley come within one play of leading the Bears over Oregon State. After seeing Riley throw for 294 yards, even Oregon's snazzy jerseys couldn't tear Jones away from Cal. He committed the very next day.
"My sophomore year in high school, I didn't really know about Cal, I'd never come up to the Bay, I didn't know it was Berkeley or anything. I thought Cal and Berkeley were different," laughs Jones. "I saw one time on TV -- I think it was Aaron Rodgers -- but I just never knew."
116 catches, 1,761 yards and 13 touchdowns later, Jones is a different man. Not a young man -- a man.
Now, Jones is a father. He lives with his girlfriend Jazmyn Mathis and their son Marvin Jones III -- now two-and-a-half years old -- and is expecting another son -- Marion Lamont Jones -- in November. The baby-faced Jones has grown up. A lot.
"We're going into our second year of being with my family, and there's a routine, and we stick by the routine and everything is going smooth right now," says Jones, who moved in with Jazmyn and Marvin III at the end of his sophomore year.
On his right shoulder, Jones has the Superman S-shield tattooed inside a cross. It's appropriate. He has to find the closest phone booth at least twice a day, as he transitions from being a football player to a student to a parent. The good days far out-number the bad. After all, it's hard to get down for too long when you have a smiling little face greet you at home every night.
"There are definitely some hard times, and meeting the demands of this institution and football, as well as putting all my energy into playing with my family," says Jones. "Being there, doing some extra stuff, sometimes, a lot of the times, I'm very energized when I do that, but sometimes, I just want to sleep, or sometimes, I just want to stop everything and be by myself, but those are the challenges. Coming here, one of the top universities, handling the academics and then coming up here, meeting the demands of football, as well as home, there are some hard times and I think those hard times have made everything better."
But, when he comes home, he's reminded of all he has to play for.
"I've always had the same mentality on the football field, but when I was living by myself -- I lived by myself my sophomore year -- I had that same mentality. I had a good season in my first year actually playing. When they moved up here, there was just a difference, there was a change in the way I came about every day life here," says Jones. "There were some days where I was like, 'Man, I don't want to do this,' and it's changed to, 'OK, let's do this. Let's go,' or 'Let's do this because I have somebody - I have my family - to go home to.' I just felt more grounded overall, as a person, and it just added extra motivation."
The chubby little cheeks and Jazmyn's "mean bowls of cereal" back home are just one of the reasons that Jones looks like he's just having more fun this year, whether it be shaking off a Fresno State defensive back, turning up field for a big gain, or spinning away from a Colorado defender for a first down. Sophomore Keenan Allen -- the nation's leader in receiving yards -- has turned out to be another member of the Jones clan, as Jones has made a foursome out of the familial triple threat of Allen, quarterback Zach Maynard and receiver Maurice Harris.
"Zach was very comfortable with Keenan coming here, and that's the thing that Keenan's dad said. When I talked to Keenan's dad, when Keenan came up here a little early, he said, 'Take care of my boys,' so I promised him that," Jones says. "That's one thing that I've been doing ever since that day, when I first met him. I think that's helped a great deal.
"We're all very close. He knows that whatever he needs, that he can't get from anybody else, he can come to me, and I'll make it happen, and Zach, too. We hang out a lot, so it's nothing that, basically anything that he needs help on, or whatever, they already know to come to me."
Being a father is easy. Being a dad takes someone special; someone who's willing to sacrifice for others. For Jones, that ability has paid huge dividends in his relationship with Allen, and it comes about as naturally to him as catching passes.
"I think I've always had it," says Jones. "Obviously, from my dad, that I grew up in a very humble setting, and he took care of everything that we needed, and I think that me, growing up, going through all those experiences at a young age, everything that I've learned from him, has pushed over to me, and I think that it even just naturally comes to me. Me having a son, it just happened natural. It's nothing new, nothing changed, there's nothing that I had to change; it just happened. I have a son, and now let's go with it, and I love that, the fact that that happened."
Jones' father -- Marvin Sr. -- is an Orange County Sheriff and a pastor, and Jones learned early on how merely having a child early can change some men's lives for the worse.
"It didn't necessarily make an impression on me, because I was always, 'That's never going to happen to me,' and that's being young," says Jones. "That's the thought process -- that's not going to happen to me -- but I've seen a lot of stuff. I've seen, especially when I used to go to work with my dad, and see all the guys in jail and in the hole, just out of their minds, and my dad, sometimes my dad would be like, 'I went to high school with him, and he was some big shot and he had everything planned for him, and now look where he is.' It's a lot of stories like that and those stories, it's just hard to believe, like, dang, he was all that and now, he's big man in a box. That's what you see. You see a lot of cases like that, everywhere, and I'm pretty sure that's contributed to my thought process growing up. One little thing could put you in the wrong position, and could take everything away from you, so I think growing up, having a dad in the sheriff's department, as well as seeing it around me, I think that's done a great deal to shape my thought process."
Having a child hasn't set Jones back at all -- in fact, he's on track to graduate in December, just in time to get ready for the NFL Draft. He does have a family to provide for, after all, and he seems to be right on track.
In his 30 career games during his first three seasons at Cal, Jones caught 94 passes for 1,424 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Before this season, Jones averaged 3.1 catches per game, 15.1 yards per catch and 47.5 yards per game -- not exactly eye-popping. Before the 2011 season started, Jones said he felt stronger and faster than he'd ever been, and, looking at his stats thus far, it's hard to argue with results. Strength and conditioning coach Mike Blasquez has turned Jones into a Juggs machine's best friend.
"Definitely. You know you have the ability to make moves and stuff like that, but knowing that you're stronger or faster, definitely, you're more aware out there," says Jones. "Each year you play, you get more and more aware of your surroundings, and more aware that all DBs are pretty much the same - that's what we think. They're pretty much going to do this if we do this, and so that's why you just get more comfortable with making moves and being confident that the outcome will go in your favor. I think that's done a great deal, too, having added experience."
Through four games, Jones has 22 snags for 337 yards and three touchdowns. He's on pace for 66 grabs, nine scores and 1,011 yards.
"I think he's more consistent, probably, in making plays, catching the ball," said head coach Jeff Tedford. "I think he's more consistent this year than he was last year."
His consistency, his speed, his athleticism, they've all improved. The one thing that's remained -- the thing that drove him to call back after an interview was concluded, just to make sure he praised his coaches and teammates -- has been Jones' character. It's what makes him studious, attentive and loving. It's what fuels that toothy rictus he can't ever seem to hide -- nor would he want to -- as soon as he steps on the field. It could be a patch of grass in the middle of nowhere, or the meticulously-groomed pastures of AT&T Park, but those pearly whites are always gleaming. His smile on a football field is so wide, he might as well be playing with his son.
"It's definitely a reward. I think if you look at me and [Allen], on the field, that's why we separate ourselves, because we don't think of it as, 'Oh, my God, this is my job. I have to do this. I have to make sure I make this catch.' It's not like that," says Jones. "It's like, 'I'm going to catch this ball, I'm going to have fun, I'm out here, and it's a reward.' We've been playing this since we were little, and this is what we do. I think when people start to look at football like that, I think it's all about passion. We're very passionate in what we can do, and we're passionate about the game, so it comes -- I'm not going to say it comes easy -- but we just naturally just go out there and do what we have to do, and it's rewarding. Having fun, we like music, and it gets us riled up."
If there's music on the practice speakers, you can bet that Allen and Jones will be the ones leading the conga line, doing a jig or breaking into a little jive during the down time between drills.
"It's just another day out here, playing football and catching the ball," says Jones. "That's all we think about, is catching the ball and having fun."
Of course, having the kind of success that Jones has enjoyed this year makes it a Herculean task to not have fun. Even after games, Jones and Allen primp and preen so they can look their best for the media, with tiger-striped glasses and bright aqua collared shirts. Of course, that could all have just been preparation to match the Ducks' ostentatious sense of fashion.
"This is what we need, as a team, as a program," Allen says. "We put ourselves out there, get everybody back on our side. We had a bad year last year, we got a chance to make it up, we'll be on TV, on ESPN, so we've just got to make a name for ourselves."
Jones is well on track to do just that. He ranks 24th in the country in total receiving yards, and is tied with Allen for 22nd in touchdowns. In an average game this season, Jones pulls down 5.5 catches for 84.25 yards, and peels off 15.32 yards per catch.
"Nothing much has changed," Jones insists. "It's just me being super-comfortable with this system, and obviously, coach bringing in people that can produce big numbers, and that helps a lot. Having Zach, that helps a great deal, too, so we have a quarterback that knows us, knows where we're going to be, makes some plays and can make big plays that we're capable of making. I think that's a big thing, and with me and Keenan, they have trust in the passing game. It's very effective."
A large part of Jones' effectiveness has been the bond he has with Allen and Maynard. The three share an ironclad trust and a sense bordering on precognition of where they all are on the field. Jones formed that connection with Allen early on, as the two collaborated on several music recordings, with more on the way. Jones says that it isn't that paternal instinct that's helped him mesh with Allen, but it's close.
"I mean, I wouldn't say a dad," Jones laughs. "Just, basically, being a part of his life. I wouldn't be a part of somebody's life if we didn't have the same interests or if his dad said, 'Take care of my boy,' and it went in one end and out the other. It wasn't like that, because once I met him, I knew he had the same interests. I knew we just liked everything the same. You know when you connect with somebody, and I instantly connected with him. Everything has made me more wise, and anything that I could do to give him what I've experienced here, and basically give him tools for him to be successful, [being a parent] prepared me to do that through him. I've done that, so far."
So, even though Allen is the No. 1 receiver in the country as far as yards are concerned, and fourth in yards per game, Jones couldn't be happier. After a drop, Jones is always there to keep Allen's spirits up.
"He's great," Allen says. "He just tells me, 'Just keep playing. It's all going to come to you. Everybody makes mistakes. I make mistakes.' I try to correct him when he makes mistakes, and we just try to learn off each other. We compete with each other, rather than compete with the DB. I try to have more catches than him, he tries to have more catches than me. We just keep it competitive out there, but I'm the better dancer."
Allen does admit, though, that Jones is the better singer. On Thursday, both will be under the bright lights, but for Jones, every pressure -- going to college, playing football, raising a family -- is an opportunity.
"I definitely think we're going to show up," he says. "You can't mistake the ability that Zach has. He's a gamer. It doesn't matter who's on the schedule; I think he's going to make plays consistently, and I think we do have the chance to go up there and put up some numbers.
"We can definitely put some points up this year, me and Marv. I feel like we've done the job so far, putting up points, we've got it clicking on all cylinders, so now we just have to win ballgames."
All those years ago, all those catches, the touchdowns, growing up in a hurry, it would be trivial to say that it's all led up to this moment for Jones. He has the rest of his lives for moments, for watching Pee Wee football games and teaching his sons how to drive. But at least in the world of college football, Jones has at the very least come full circle.
"I came and I saw Riley and I saw his potential. He threw for 300-something [sic] yards, and I was like, 'Man, this guy is special,' so that next day, I committed to Cal, the Sunday after," says Jones. "It's funny, because Cal and Oregon were there for four years. They were my top two teams, and I knew I wasn't going to go anywhere else but the West Coast."