April 14, 2010

Paul surprised by rampant interest

Jionni Paul has always felt he was a good player.

However, the 6-foot, 210-pound linebacker from Lakeland (Kathleen), Fla., has never believed he was anything all that special on the football field. Instead, he's just considered himself a "hard-working kid."

Numerous colleges disagree, however, and the scholarship offers just keep rolling in. Recently, Ole Miss jumped into the fray, and the Rebels _ specifically, cornerbacks coach/recruiting coordinator Chris Vaughn _ made a strong first impression.

"He's a good man," Paul said. "He gave me a warm welcome. He told me he'd come out in the spring and we'd get to know each other better.

"Ole Miss is a place I'd really consider going. Talking on the phone to them, it made me feel like I'm part of the team already. That's a good thing, I guess."

Paul doesn't know much about Ole Miss yet. That's not a big deal, however, as Paul doesn't know a lot about any college football program.

"I don't even watch college football," Paul said, laughing. "I don't watch any team. I watch a lot of pro ball."

Paul said he's followed his favorite NFL franchise, the Oakland Raiders, far more than the college teams, even the high-profile programs from the Sunshine State.

"They need some help," Paul said of the Raiders. "They'll get better."

Paul admitted his viewing habits will change this fall, in large part because of the decision that looms over him. Paul said he has lost track of the scholarship offers that have come his way recently. Ole Miss, Cincinnati, Louisville, Florida State, South Florida, Tennessee, Iowa State and Memphis.

One reason for the attention has been Paul's academic progress. He recently received an 18 on the ACT to go along with his 3.6 core grade-point average. Throw in his prowess on the field _ Paul recorded 159 tackles and three interceptions along with six touchdowns as a running back as a junior after recording 155 tackles as a sophomore _ and it's no surprise Paul's stock is skyrocketing. No surprise, that is, to everyone but Paul

"It surprised me big time," Paul said. "My coach told me to believe. I didn't believe at first I was that good. I still don't. ...I'm just a hard-working kid. I can't do it without my D-line or the secondary I have.

"I need to work on everything, to tell you the truth. I need to get physical, rip through blocks, beat defenders and get to the ball."

As for his college decision, Paul said he's going to take his time. His brother, Missouri point guard Miguel Paul, rushed through the process somewhat, Gionni Paul said, and it's a mistake he doesn't want to repeat.

"I'm gonna have to sit down with my momma and my daddy and my coach," Paul said. "I'm a momma's boy. She'll make my decision."

Paul said his mother played a big role in his older brother's decision as well.

"She liked the coaches (at Missouri)," Paul said. "They made her feel at home. It's a family atmosphere. It's far and it's cold up there, and that was a big downfall for her, but she looked past that.

"I believe it's way too early. I do want to sit down and take five visits. My brother went through the same process and he went too fast."

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