LINCOLN -- Kale Jones conducted a self inspection based upon his 2022 sophomore season. He didn't shy away from examining areas where he needed improvement, and changed his mindset about playing defense.
Lincoln's defense faded badly in the last three games of 2022 with the Wolves outscored 182-47.
Head coach Reed Mendoza pointed to the run defense as the area of blame, and set out to shore up the Wolves' capacity to defend opponents' ground games.
Jones makes no bones about what his role should be.
"I would like to make more tackles than I did last season. Towards the end of the year I was kind of fading away from making tackles," Jones said.
Now that he's completed the internal evaluation, he came into his junior season ready to make an even bigger impact.
"I think I need to improve a lot of my game and just do what the team needs and I'll go from there," Jones said. "I would like to be a verbal leader on the defense. We're really good about being verbal out there."
For Jones, it was a dream come true, winning the Class 3A State triple jump crown in 2023. Jones is proud to represent Lincoln on that stage. In the fall he took his athletic skills into football.
"I'm just trying to be a better leader this year because last year I kind of fell apart when things got bad. [I'm working on] trying to get better at that, and I'm getting stronger," Jones said.
He beefed up his frame, putting on 20 pounds
"I feel a lot better running behind the ball and my linemen I trust them. I think we're going to do good this year and I think this team's going to be the one," Jones said.
His teammate, Nick Martinez, made major contributions, carrying the ball in Jones' absence when he was suspended for the first half of the Westville game on Sept. 1. Martinez played both ways and along with Tye Moss demonstrated to opponents that Jones isn't the only Wolf who can run the ball effectively.
"It's exciting as it is. I think I could have played better," Martinez said in the aftermath of a 48-24 win at Westville where he lost an earring in the clash.
Like Jones, Martinez is looking for self improvement to shape the team into the best it can be. He carried 8 times for 55 yards against Westville with an 8-yard touchdown run.
"I have some bad spots I need to make up for, but besides that it was a great game. We did great as a team we can do better, but we won tonight and that's all that matters," Martinez said.
Martinez played a pivotal role on defense in beating Mena, 45-42, last week.
Over the offseason Jones decreased his 40-yard-dash time from 4.8 to 4.6 seconds.
"My dad had a buddy and he was Arkansas track and field. He had records there and I asked him to come help me and he came and helped me and brought it down from 4.8 to 4.6," Jones said.
That process took about half the summer. Jones began working out with the former Razorback right after the 2022-2023 school year ended and continued up until he attended college showcases and football camps. Jones has drawn some interest, "here and there," as he puts it.
"I need to put more work in to get where they're more interested in me. I'm doing good at the camps. I just need to talk to them more," Jones said.
Jones wants the 2023 Wolves to do the unprecedented.
"I'm hoping we can get to host a couple of playoff games this year. The goal always is to win the state championship, that's a goal. I hope we can finish first in our conference and go from there," Jones said.
His individual goal is breaking a 1,500-yard season this year, and possibly bringing in a couple of college offers.
Lincoln's preparing to post school football records. Jones wasn't aware of Tyler Cummings' 34 carries, 415 yards, 6 touchdowns performance in the pouring rain at Malvern when the Wolves won their first-ever road playoff game, 41-21, in the 2013 Class 4A second-round. Cummins went over 2,000 yards that season, setting the standard at a very high bar for Lincoln. Jones keeps that in perspective.
"I just got to do what the team needs and hopefully make bigger plays and hopefully a game like that shows up," Jones said.
Jones showed he's capable of that with a 39 carry, 219-yard, 4 touchdown, outburst against Mena. He wants to be a dual threat, not just a runner, but also as a capable pass receiver in the Wolves' spread offense.
"A lot of this offseason I've been working on catching [passes], doing a lot of catching drills, trying to make my routes crisper and I think it's showing off," Jones said.
Jones caught two passes for 52 yards and a touchdown versus the Bearcats.
Jones also plays defense. He lowered the boom on a Westville back after a completed pass in the second game of the season, drawing aahs from Lincoln fans hearing the crack of pads from the other side of the field.
The sky may be the only limit for the 2023 Lincoln Wolves.