Pac-Man a gamer for WVU

The nickname doesn't exactly strike fear into those who hear it: Pac-Man.

"That might be true ..." said West Virginia junior cornerback Adam Jones, aka The Pac-Man. "But you just don't know."

Maybe not, but at last check, Pac-Man was a computer-generated yellow head that ate dots and got chased by Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde. Not very intimidating, to say the least.

"Go watch some film of our games, and you won't question it anymore," said Jones, a Pac-Man junkie who was given the nickname by his mother. "There's nothing fake and there's no extra hype about me. If you come my way, I'm going to hit you. I don't care how big or tall you are -- you will get hit. Hard."

If you get the impression that this Pac-Man is a lot more dangerous than the yellow guy in the video game, you would be right. He is the aggressor, the playmaker, the one who decides when it's "Game over" for the opposition.

Jones is a 5-foot-11, 185-pound burner on a West Virginia team (6-1, 2-0 Big East) that maximizes all of his wondrous athletic skills. He starts at corner, returns kickoffs and punts and plays offense in specialty situations.

Jones has scored a touchdown in four different ways in his WVU career (punt return, kickoff return, interception return and fumble recovery) and is a big reason the Mountaineers are ranked among the nation's elite.

"We surely have a lot of options with a guy like that on our side," said coach Rich Rodriguez, whose team plays at Rutgers (4-3, 1-2) on Saturday. "We just have to make sure he can catch a breath sometimes."

A native of College Park, Ga., Jones has a swagger about him, a smooth-as-silk style that stands out in a crowd. That was evident four years ago when he walked into a press conference to announce his college choice with a Georgia Tech hat on his head. At the last second, he grabbed a WVU cap and proclaimed, "I'm going to West Virginia."

The move might have rankled those in Atlanta, but Jones has never looked back. He's adjusted to life in Morgantown and is establishing himself as one of the nation's most electric and versatile players.

He's also done a lot of growing up.

"I came here to get away from all the distractions, all the trouble," said Jones, who was raised in one of the toughest areas of Greater Atlanta, a neighborhood filled with drug dealers and murderers. "This was a new start for me, a way to get myself away from any problems. It's working out perfectly."

Although he's only 21, Jones has had to overcome the death of his father (while in grade school), his grandmother (last year) and a teacher who changed his life (last month). To his credit, he never let it overwhelm him -- at least not publicly.

"Being part of this team has helped me through the tough times," Jones said. "Football has helped me through."

Jones is the triggerman of a WVU defense that's allowed just four touchdowns in the past five games. He has a team-high 47 tackles, three interceptions, eight passes defended and a sack, including seven stops in a 27-6 win over Syracuse last Thursday night at Mountaineer Field.

He had two crucial interceptions in the Mountaineers' signature victory over Maryland in Week 3 and added a season-high 10 tackles vs. Central Florida. His ability to come up and make big hits, combined with his one-on-one coverage skills, makes him a rare commodity.

"I take defense very seriously," Jones said. "That's how you win ballgames."

Jones is just as effective in the kicking game. He is 10th nationally in punt returns with an average of 16.2, which includes a 76-yard touchdown against East Carolina, and 26th on kickoffs at 24.8

He's called for a fair catch twice in his career -- and he remembers both vividly.

"I didn't want to do it, but I got stuck," he said. "On one, it was raining hard and everybody was too close to me. On the other one, it was a real short and I was running too fast and I had to do it."

Jones likens his style to former Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson -- another multi-dimensional player -- but with a twist.

"I emulate him as far as playing cornerback -- but I'm a little more physical than he is," Jones said. "Like I said before, I'm going to come up and hit anybody in my way."

When he's not making plays on the field, Jones can be seen walking around the WVU campus with his pit bull, Gretta. The dog can be nasty at times, but it also attracts wanted attention.

"The girls love her," Jones said. "It's a major attraction with the ladies. ... I'm not saying I need the dog to get the ladies, but I'm just saying it helps."

Jones said several other teammates have dogs, but his is the toughest.

"Yeah, Gretta can go at you when she wants," he said. "She's mean when she has to be, but most of the time, she's nice and laid back."

Similar to her owner?

"Exactly like her owner," he said.

Joe Bendel covers the Big East for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.