BOZEMAN — When Jeff Choate was hired to be the head football coach at Montana State in December of 2015, each player had a choice — either buy what Choate was selling or buy a one-way ticket out of town.
It’s Choate’s way or the highway at MSU, and, as the coach says, effort is the price of admission.
And so, in the wake of the coaching change, the roster began turning over accordingly. A good chunk of the players from the Rob Ash regime transferred to other programs. Many others were quick to adjust to Choate’s culture change.
Running back Logan Jones was on the fence.
After a freshman season in which he proved to be an elusive kickoff and punt returner — his 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Portland State was one of that season’s top team highlights — Jones was yet to fully commit to Choate’s team-first message.
At the time, running backs coach Michael Pitre knew Jones needed to reevaluate his sense of purpose.
“(Choate’s) standards were different and the expectations were different, and for Logan, I don’t think he realized how much talent and ability he has and how important he really is to this football team if he’s all in,” Pitre said. “I think it took him a little bit longer to figure things out.”
The turning point came last summer when Jones decided to blow off the voluntary player-run practices that are so crucial in bridging the months-long gap between spring practice and fall camp.
These workouts, of course, are “optional” — but not really. If you want to play in the fall, you’d better put in the work in June and July.
But Jones wasn’t sold.
“I didn’t really understand the importance of being here in the summer,” Jones said Friday after MSU’s ninth practice of fall camp. “I wasn’t here for most of those workouts. I was here in the beginning a little bit, but they said it was optional, and so I figured it wasn’t that big of a deal.”
As a result, when preseason camp convened last year, Jones wasn’t invited. He instead joined the team when classes began, just before the Bobcats’ opener against Idaho.
Jones, a former standout at Glacier High in Kalispell, acknowledged it as a wakeup call.
“I wasn’t doing the right things. I wasn’t here for my teammates,” Jones conceded. “Not being here for fall camp last year motivated me to be damn sure that I am here this year and I’m doing everything I can for these boys.
“It’s not about me. That’s the last thing it’s about. It’s about doing what I can for my offensive line, doing what I can for my quarterback, doing what I can for my coaches.”
Said Choate: “He’s responded really well to some of the things that we did internally, and I think it’s going to benefit him not just this season — it’s going to benefit our team, obviously, because he’s a good player — but in a broader sense it’s going to benefit Logan in the future, so I’m really proud of the strides he’s made.”
Jones hasn’t gotten the ball too much in his two seasons with MSU. But when he has, he’s shown a distinct big-play ability.
A year ago he averaged 20.9 yards per touch. As a freshman that was 22.6. In addition to his kickoff return versus PSU, last season Jones had a 65-yard catch-and-run late in the fourth quarter against Sacramento State that set the Bobcats up with a first-and-goal and a chance to win the game.
Jones’ commitment is no longer a question. What’s unknown now is how many chances he’ll get in a crowded backfield that includes holdovers Nick LaSane and Noah James, transfers Jake Roper and Edward Vander, and newcomers Troy Andersen and Tyrel Burgess.
“There are a ton of running backs right now,” Jones said. “We just have to know what we need to do to get our reps.
“This year I’d say I’ve learned the offense better than I have in any other year. I’ve really been focusing on my role and making sure I know what to do to make the coaches’ job easy, make the o-line’s job easy, all that. It’s all a team thing. If I know my stuff and if those guys know their stuff, we’ll be just fine.”
Jones, a construction engineering technology major, one day aspires to own his own construction company, or perhaps divert his plans to become a chiropractor.
As for having a new lease on his football life, Jones is ready to make a greater impact.
“These coaches always talk about how this isn’t just about football,” he said. “It’s about turning young men into good men. So far I feel like they’ve done that for me.
“I’ve learned to grow up and take my role and absorb it and do everything I can for my team. I’m here for my teammates. They’re what’s important.”