Horned Frog fans might have had a reason to root for the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
The Panthers featured a trio of TCU alumni: safety Colin Jones, President Danny Morrison and assistant special teams coach Curtis Fuller.
Jones is the 27th Horned Frog to play on a Super Bowl team.
Jones truly defines the Horned Frog factor, said Mark Cohen, TCU director of media relations.
“He plays the game hard,” Cohen said. “He appreciates everything TCU afforded him.”
Jones’ TCU career
Jones was a star running back in high school. But when he got to TCU, like many players before and after him, he quickly made the switch to defense. By his senior year, he was the second leading tackler.
“Gary [Patterson] saw something in him,” Cohen said.
In his career at TCU, Jones played in 45 games — 17 starts. He totaled 124 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions, one of which he ran in for a touchdown. But it wasn’t until pro-days in the spring of 2011 when people really started taking notice of Jones, Cohen said.
Everyone knew about TCU greats, such as Andy Dalton and Marcus Cannon, but Jones stood out because of his sprints, Cohen said.
“He ran the charts off, ” Cohen said.
Former TCU and Carolina Panthers teammate Jason Phillips said he wasn’t yet NFL-caliber, but his sprints had coaches scrambling to go back and watch his tapes.
And Jones ran right into the sights of one coach: Jim Harbaugh.
Coach of the San Francisco 49ers at the time, Harbaugh was at training camp and noticed Jones. It was enough for Jones to get drafted in the sixth round of the 2011 draft.
Jones’ NFL career
Making his NFL debut in San Francisco, Jones started on the team’s 53-man roster before being signed to its practice squad. Three weeks into practice, he moved up onto the active roster.
Jones played 13 games and had some big plays for the 49’ers. The Carolina Panthers took notice after Jones recovered a fumble in the 2011 playoffs against the Giants. The Panthers later traded their seventh-round pick to the 49ers for Jones.
Jones was always a guy to hustle, Cohen said. On kickoffs, he would always be the first to try to make something happen.
Phillips agreed. He said playing along side Jones showed him the true hard work and effort Jones would always put into his playing. He said Jones would always be the first to “haul butt” and then he would be able to slide in and get the tackle.
“He would do the brunt work,” Phillips laughed. “And I would get the statistical tackle.”
But the transition from college football to NFL caliber gameplay isn’t easy, Phillips said. The whole aspect is a totally different game.
“It’s more of an attitude on special teams,” Phillips said. “The game itself, offense and defense, it’s apples and oranges.”
In the NFL it’s more of a “my team is better than your team” mentality, he said.
“We’re not going to do so much scheme,” Phillips said. “It’s about how we can beat you before you beat us.”
But it also takes a personality centered on hard work, humility and effort because “that’s what it takes,” Phillips said.
“Colin is like that,” he said.
More Horned Frogs
More familiar TCU faces in the Superbowl spotlight are Danny Morrison and Curtis Fuller.
Morrison, now the president of the Panthers, served as TCU’s athletic director from 2005-2009. He was the athletic director when Jones played for TCU.
Morrison is still an active part of TCU football, Cohen said. This season, the Panthers played the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. The following day, Morrison went to the TCU football game against Baylor.
“He’s a great guy,” Cohen said. “He keeps tabs on the Frogs.”
Fuller, the assistant special teams coach for the Panthers, played for TCU from 1998-2000. During his career at TCU, Fuller produced 257 tackles, three interceptions and 19 passes defended in three seasons.
TCU and the NFL
There are currently 15 former Frogs on 13 different NFL teams.
Phillips said general managers love TCU players. He said managers and coaches know the players are hard-working and coachable.
“They [TCU players] are not going to be a bust,” Phillips said. “I think that speaks to the program here.”
This will be the sixth Super Bowl in the last eight years that TCU has had at least one player in the game.
Cohen said that no matter who you are rooting for, “you want Colin Jones to come back to TCU with a Super Bowl ring.”