LOS ANGELES — Amid a slow start to his sophomore season last fall, USC running back Ronald Jones II fretted about his hair.
It was too short.
The previous year, he had broken out, rushing for more yards than any other freshman in program history. As Jones outran potential tacklers, his dreadlocks flapped from under his cardinal helmet. He missed them, regretting a decision before the season to buzz his hair. The long locks, he cracked, were his power source.
Despite the tighter trim, Jones ultimately bounced back in 2016, again topping the 1,000-yard mark.
Nonetheless, he took precautions this offseason. The dreadlocks returned.
“I feel like myself,” Jones said. “I’m ready to go now.”
Jones, a junior, figures to assume a more prominent role in the backfield entering this season, following the graduation of senior Justin Davis. Last season, Davis and Jones split the majority of the carries.
“He’s warming himself into that every-down back,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “And that’s what you want when you have an opportunity to be in that role.”
Helton pointed out that Jones has developed as a more well-rounded running back.
“We’ve always known him as a runner,” Helton said. “Now he’s catching the ball out of the backfield, pass protection.”
That should allow him to see more snaps.
USC last had a running back average more than 20 carries per game in 2014, when Javorius Allen averaged 21.
Asked what kind of workload he could envision from his team’s primary running back, Helton said, “You need a guy who can do 25 touches in a game.”
Jones averaged 14 carries per game last season at 6.1 yards per clip.
To withstand a heavier workload, Jones added 10 pounds this offseason. USC now lists the 6-foot running back at 200 pounds.
“Toward the end of the game, I get tired and beat up, with nicks and bruises,” Jones said. “With the weight, I’ll be able to take more hits, things like that.”
The extra pounds came from eating four meals per day, part of a more regimented meal plan, and an offseason weightlifting program.
“They’ve been getting me right,” Jones said. “I feel heavier too.”
Does any of the extra weight come from the dreadlocks?
“Maybe three,” Jones said with a laugh.
Jones started to regrow the dreadlocks after the Rose Bowl. By February, he said he had an afro. By March, the locks were back in time for a visit with “my lady” while on spring break near his home in McKinney, Texas.