FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rookie defensive end Chandler Jones is a rising star for the Patriots on the field, and he comes across as a humble, down-to-earth person off it.
The Patriots' top selection in the 2012 NFL draft out of Syracuse, the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Jones has made an impact quicker than many anticipated. He earned a starting role at right defensive end in training camp and has played the run well while totaling six sacks. Prior to injuring his ankle Nov. 18 against the Colts, he was playing more than 90 percent of the team's defensive snaps.
The 22-year-old Jones, who is in the discussion for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, shared his "football journey" with ESPNBoston.com:
When he first started playing football: "The third grade. I played for a Pee Wee team called the Jets. I played right guard and also defensive guard, which was a position we had because we ran a 5-2 [alignment]."
What first got him started playing football: "My brothers. They'd come home with some of their pads and helmets, and I'd look at them and say, 'That seems pretty cool. I want to play too.' I followed them."
Role models growing up: "My father [Arthur]. He had four kids, before my sister passed, and he was working, putting food on the table, clothes on our back, and a roof over our head. I saw him and said, 'One day I want to be just like my father.'" (Boston Globe feature story.)
Football memories at Union-Endicott (N.Y.) High School: "We won our division. We lived in the Tri-Cities -- Binghamton, Endicott and Maine-Endwell -- and we won that and went to states. I think that was my last year in high school."
Why he attended Syracuse University: "I followed my brother Arthur there. It wasn't too close to home, it wasn't too far from home. It was just an hour-and-a-half drive. When I went to the games, the atmosphere with the fans wearing the orange and their Orange pride ... UConn and Pittsburgh wanted me to play tight end, Michigan was looking at me for outside linebacker. Syracuse wanted me for defensive end and that's what I chose."
Top football memories at Syracuse: "My sophomore year when we won the inaugural New Era Pinstripe Bowl, at Yankee Stadium. It was the first bowl game there and we beat Kansas State."
Almost completed with his degree: "My major was in Child and Family studies and my minor was in African-American studies. Leaving school early as a junior I'm three hours away from graduating and I can take an online course to finish, probably this summer."
Getting drafted by the Patriots in 2012 (1st round, 21st overall): "It was a great feeling. Not only the fact that me and brother Arthur (Ravens) are now rivals, but just receiving that phone call and hearing that it was a pleasure to have me. Then coming into the locker room with Tom [Brady] and Vince [Wilfork] ... It's a job, and you eat, sleep and dream football now. You wake up and you do football. You go to sleep and you're thinking football. You're always studying, and that's how it should be, especially in season."
On if the first round was a realistic expectation in his mind: "There was a lot of draft rumors. People said I was going sixth round, people said third, and some people had me in the first round. When I received my draft grade from the NFL, they said I could go as high as the third round. I did some evaluating and talked to my family and they said, 'That's a pretty good grade, I would leave.' I sat down, took that into consideration and said, 'I could go in the third round so I'm going to leave.' As I went through the combine and pre-draft process, my draft stock rose from my combine numbers and teams watching and studying film. I always tell people going through the draft now, 'It only takes one team to like you.' Luckily the Patriots were that team for me. I'm happy to be here."
If he sensed it might be the Patriots: "No. I looked at a lot of mock drafts when I was going through it, and my biggest advice to people coming out is 'Don't look at the mock drafts.' They had me going to Seattle, they had me going to Detroit ... a lot of mock drafts did have me going to New England."
Totaling 6 sacks as a rookie with Patriots after having 10 in 3 years at Syracuse: "At Syracuse, my role was a lot different. On pass-rush downs, I was playing a 'zero' technique, nose tackle. Me being 6-foot-6, 250 [pounds in college], you can't really dominate down there. Here, I'm on the edge and there is an opportunity to rush the passer."
If he could have envisioned such a quick start to his career: "The thing I thought when I got drafted here was the history -- does Bill start rookies, do rookies really play? A lot of people told me rookies don't really play. They might get in, but they don't start. When that started to happen in training camp, the thought was 'this could be real -- possibly starting for the New England Patriots.' It was a great feeling."
Football players he enjoyed growing up: "Jevon Kearse. I remember him when he played for Tennessee and he was also with the Eagles. I remember him with these huge, long arms and I used to always play with him in Madden."
Favorite teams growing up: "My favorite team was the Jacksonville Jaguars. Since I was a little kid, I loved the colors -- turquoise and black. The helmets that were all black. I used to say, 'One day I'm going to be a Jacksonville Jaguar.' But I'm so glad I'm here with the New England Patriots. This is the best thing that has ever happened to me."
What he loves about football: "That it's a team sport. I wrestled in high school for a few years and the mano a mano was a feeling that wasn't necessarily for me. In football, you have 22 men on the field, 11 on each side, and there's knowing you can lean on that person next to you, and they can lean on you because you're all going to do your job."
Summing up his football journey: "A lot of time, just days and days of work -- from practices, getting hit, getting banged up as a little kid and thinking I'm out for the season ... just toughness. You get tough -- mentally and physically playing for all those years. It builds your passion and love for the game. Whenever you're having a hard day at this level, or something is not going your way, you say 'This is what I've been working my whole life for, since the third grade, to play in the NFL.' It gives you the drive."