Josiah Jones has played in big games before, like the one Walkersville will host Friday night against unbeaten Catoctin.
In 2017, Jones earned considerable playing time as a freshman — primarily at running back and on special teams — for a supremely talented Walkersville team that went 11-0 before falling to Damascus in the Class 2A West regional football final.
“People might not realize that we weren’t as deep as we usually are in the offensive backfield, and we felt he was a good player who could contribute,” Lions coach Joe Polce said.
Since then, Jones (6-foot, 210 pounds) has grown more than two inches and added almost 60 pounds — numbers that seemingly increase by the week — to his already muscular frame.
His role on the team has expanded, too, as he leads Walkersville’s typically deep backfield in carries (40 for 204 yards and two touchdowns) while becoming a bone-rattling linebacker on defense.
“Very instinctual, fast, powerful, vicious at the point of attack,” Walkersville’s defensive coordinator, Tyler Thompson, said. “His ability to get to the football and tackle in space is phenomenal.”
Polce believes Jones has the chance to be a Division I outside linebacker in college.
“I am not sure if it will be a Power Five [conference] school,” Polce said. “But he has a shot.”
When Jones arrived at Walkersville High, he had never carried a football in a game and could barely outrun an offensive lineman.
As a young kid, he struggled to make an impact as a soccer player before his brother, Zamarre Snowden, a former running back for Walkersville and Linganore, convinced him to give football a try.
Since he was a bigger kid and exceeded the ball-carrying weight, Jones was primarily consigned to being a lineman on offense. He had no concept of letting his blocks develop, finding the right hole or running with a ball in his hand.
But Polce saw his size, strength and natural athleticism. He pulled Jones aside in the school’s weight room and told him he was going to play running back.
“I said, ‘OK. I play whatever you want me to play,’” Jones said.
Polce could have let Jones cut his teeth for a season or two on junior varsity. But pulling him up to varsity as a freshman gave the Lions some depth and allowed him to hang around better players and learn things faster.
“It was a great experience playing behind Jacob Wetzel and Ty Littleton,” Jones said, referring to a pair of former standout running backs at Walkersville. “I learned a lot from those guys. They taught me that it’s a dogfight every time you play.”
Through improved strength and conditioning, Jones became a much faster and stronger player. His time in the 40-yard dash dropped from 5.3 seconds to 4.7.
“He has really worked to get a lot better,” Polce said. “He has been playing at varsity speed for three seasons now.”
Still, there are moments when he won’t read his blocks properly and he’ll miss the available crease in the defense. He has to remind himself to keep his eyes up and resist the temptation to put his head down and bull straight ahead.
In the midst of his third season as a running back, Jones admits that he is still “a work in progress.”
But he has time to improve, as he is only a junior, and the Lions will be ready to reap the rewards.