Alabama’s Mac Jones returns to Camping World Stadium with sights set on Citrus Bowl win
By Ainslie Lee, Florida Citrus Sports
ORLANDO, Fla. — Alabama starting quarterback Mac Jones is no stranger to Orlando.
The Florida native spent his high school career at The Bolles School – a prep powerhouse just a couple hours up Interstate 95 in Jacksonville – and as a senior in 2016, he played a memorable state title game at Camping World Stadium. He also returned here with the Crimson Tide last year, throwing his very first college pass against Louisville in the Camping World Kickoff.
Now he’s back again – this time to face Michigan on New Year’s Day in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl.
“It’s been cool to kinda be around Orlando,” Jones said following the Crimson Tide’s practice on Saturday. “It’s a good city and they’ve been really nice to us at the Citrus Bowl.”
However, historically speaking, Orlando hasn’t been overly nice to Jones. Alabama trounced Louisville in last year’s season-opener, but in a trifecta of state championship outings in high school, Jones and the Bulldogs came away empty handed.
In that 2016 state title game, which capped off Jones’ senior year, the quarterback went 10 for 18 with just 61 passing yards and a single touchdown in Bolles’ 31-17 loss to Cocoa.
However, Jones’ situation now is much different than the one three years ago.
“I think the big thing with Mac is that he doesn’t really have anything to prove,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said of his starting quarterback on Friday. “I think what he needs to do is do his job well – we have a lot of other guys around him that can make plays. He doesn’t have to try to live up or be anybody but himself.”
Since Jones’ first start in the crimson and white, which came just 63 days ago, he has had to turn a blind eye to the pressures of living up to the hype of his injured incumbent, Tua Tagovailoa.
“I learned a lot from Tua,” Jones said Saturday. “I’m just taking it play by play and down by down – just trying to do my job to the best of my ability and everything will just kind of play out how it’s going to play out.”
He’s a lot more than Tua’s backup for a lot of people here in Florida. Jones was one of the top-rated passers in the state before choosing Alabama over Baylor, Kentucky, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. He gave his fans and family plenty to remember as a Bulldog, and few in Jacksonville are surprised at his appearance in a January bowl game.
“It is a little different,” Jones said. “We want to try to make the playoff every year, but obviously we didn’t this year. It’s a bowl game and it’s exciting. It’s a football game and we’ve been playing since we were five. So we want to win every game we go to.
“Yeah, we wanted to go to the playoff,” Jones added. “But we will see what we do here.”
So while his legacy in this state is set, he’s got a chance to build on his college career in a major way on New Year’s Day.
And he has a chance to get what he first came to Camping World Stadium for: A season-ending win.