From 2017 to 2021, defensive end DeAngelo Malone was Western Kentucky’s defensive headliner. In 2022, the burden of defensive leadership for WKU falls on redshirt senior defensive end and graduate student Juwuan Jones.
Malone won his first Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year that season with 99 total tackles and 11.5 sacks, marking just the fourth time in WKU’s history that a player tallied double digit sacks. In 2021, Malone once again won C-USA DPOTY with 94 total tackles (17.5 for loss) and nine sacks. Malone ended his college career as WKU’s all-time sack leader with 34 before being selected by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2022 NFL draft.
Like Malone, Jones is a Georgia native who made a near-instant impact in Bowling Green. Jones earned FWAA Freshman All-American honors as a redshirt freshman in 2018 after totaling 42 tackles with five sacks. He has started every game for the Hilltoppers since the start of the 2019 season. His best season came in 2019 with 55 tackles, including 12.5 for loss, with seven sacks and nine quarterback hurries. Over the past two years, Jones has totaled 83 tackles with 11.5 for loss and 5.5 sacks.
Like Malone, Jones is also 6’3”, but has about thirty pounds on Malone. That kind of frame should help him raise his draft stock in the coming months. Jones also played inside linebacker in high school and has shown he knows how to establish himself against interior linemen.
While the comparisons might seem natural to some since the two share similar backgrounds and play similar positions for the same school, Jones isn’t tripping himself up by comparing himself to Malone.
“You’ve just got to run your own race,” Jones told UDD at C-USA Media Day. “Everyone’s not the same, everyone’s skill sets are different. [Malone] is a freak athlete, very good at football, and very smart. He knows what to do and knows how to do it. I’m also very smart, but might not be as athletically gifted as him. But you’ve just got to run your own race and play to your strengths.”
On and off the field, it’s clear that Jones is blazing his own path. In either regard, Jones plans to continue to be a leader for WKU through his example.
Jones has earned academic recognition from CoSIDA each of the last three seasons, including Second Team Academic All-American honors in the last two. As a grad student, he’s currently earning his Master’s degree in teaching with a focus on special education. He accomplishes all of this thanks to a strong grasp of time management.
“In the real world, you need to manage your time and do the things that need to get done,” Jones said. “Those things you might not need to do or want to do, you have to put it to the side. You have to find the right balance. My parents taught me that ever since a young age that academics come before anything.”
When asked about his experience working as a student-teacher at Bowling Green’s Drake Creek Middle School, Jones stated that the experience has made him a better leader by teaching him patience and appreciation for what makes each individual unique. While a pro playing career may be imminent for Jones, he said he can see himself continuing his journey as an educator for 25-30 years.
“The NFL is my main aspiration. That’s been my aspiration since I was six. But football doesn’t last forever,” Jones remarked. “I want to be able to teach and coach at the high school level. My teaching degree is in special education. I have my certificate to teach. So my ‘plan B’ is already set up. If football doesn’t work out for me, I’ll be able to serve in a different way by coaching and teaching special education students.”
For his work off of the field, Jones was recently 2022 Wuerffeul Trophy Watch List: an award that “honors college football players who serve others, celebrate their positive impact on society and inspire greater service in the world.”
Individual accolades aside, WKU’s defense is in need of improvement in 2022. WKU’s defense was on the field for an FBS-high 1083 plays last season, allowing 435.8 yards per game, 5.63 yards per play, and over 6,100 total yards.
When Western Kentucky opens the season on August 27 at home against Austin Peay, Tyson Helton plans to establish a pattern of putting opposing quarterbacks in high-pressure situations in order to maintain the upper hand.
“We’re going to be a little more aggressive defensively this year,” Helton told UDD. “New defensive coordinator. A lot of new faces, both players and coaches. But I like the style of play that we’re playing. I think it forces the quarterback to make decisions. It forces the quarterback to have to beat you. Being a quarterback guy, that’s how I want to play defense.”
“I think again, you got to look at your personnel. What do you have? How do you get your best eleven on the field? I think what we’re going to do defensively this year fits us. I don’t want to say that it’s a complete overhaul or that it’s a new scheme or any of that, it’s just wrinkles here and there that I think fit us and our personnel that’s going to help us.”
Part of last year’s defensive results can be contributed to WKU’s lightning-fast offense led by Bailey Zappe in 2021 that broke multiple FBS records for scoring and yardage. When the offense is so efficient, it’s natural that the defense won’t have much time to rest.
Even so, Jones knows his leadership will be important when it comes to making the Hilltoppers a more balanced team all throughout 2022.
“On defense, we got hot down the stretch, but we didn’t start as good,” Jones recalled. “So, you want to come off of fall camp healthy. That’s the biggest thing. The second thing is just to get better every day, in every aspect. Technique, fundamentals, all those things are very important. So just to improve every day, get the scheme down, and just be the best player you can be.”