DALLAS (FWAA) – Cornerback Steven Jones Jr. lent a scoring hand from the defensive side of the ball Saturday, returning two of his three interceptions for touchdowns to boost App State’s runaway 48-14 win at Arkansas State. For the two scoring returns and the interceptions that catapulted him into a tie for the national lead, Jones earned the Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week honor for games of the weekend of Nov. 6, as selected by the Football Writers Association of America.
This is the second time for an App State player to earn this weekly honor and first since 2019 when current super senior defensive end Demetrius Taylor won it following an upset win Sept. 19 at North Carolina. Jones will be added to the Bronko Nagurski Trophy watch list.
The 5-10, 180-pound senior from Rockingham, N.C., scored on returns of 47 and 34 yards, sandwiched around a leaping interception at the goal line that gave the first-year starter three pick-six touchdowns and four total interceptions over the last two games. He’s the first Mountaineer to score on a pair of interceptions since 1983, and now has five picks this season in only his 10th start at cornerback. He is tied with South Carolina safety Jaylan Foster the national lead. The two touchdown returns against Arkansas State and four career scores both tie Sun Belt Conference records.
“I was just focused on doing my job – staying on top, looking at the formations,” Jones said. “From watching film, I knew a couple plays and I just capitalized.”
Constant pressure from the front seven – App State had four sacks and 11 tackles for loss against Arkansas State – played a role in the dominant defensive effort. A block from Taylor, App State’s previous Bronko Nagurski weekly winner, paved the way for Jones to reach the end zone on his touchdown that resulted in a 14-0 lead.
Jones ended the first half of last week’s home win against ULM with a 14-yard return for a score. No FBS player has had three pick-six scores in a shorter span than Jones since Houston’s Johnny Jackson set an NCAA record by scoring three times on interception returns in a 1987 game against Texas. Jones tied four other defenders for App State’s single-game interception record and matched three other Mountaineer alums for the pick-six touchdown record in a single game.
The three interception returns for touchdowns in one season and four in a career are school records for Jones, who also scored on a 34-yard return against Troy last season and actually has five career touchdowns thanks to an end-zone recovery of a punt he blocked against Gardner-Webb in 2018.
The Mountaineers host South Alabama at 2:30 pm ET Saturday on ESPN-Plus.
The FWAA has chosen a National Defensive Player of the Year since 1993. In 1995, the FWAA named the award in honor of the legendary two-way player from the University of Minnesota. Nagurski dominated college football then became a star for professional football’s Chicago Bears in the 1930s. Bronislaw “Bronko” Nagurski is a charter member of both the College Football and Pro Football Halls of Fame.
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