UNIVERSITY PARK — DaQuan Jones learned that a police cruiser is a tight squeeze for his 6-foot-3, 315-pound body.
But the Penn State defensive tackle fit right in with the Spring Township Police Department during an internship there this summer.
Jones, a senior criminology major, helped the local officers with a variety of calls during the weeks leading up to his final preseason camp with the Nittany Lions. The situations ranged from vehicle stops to domestic disturbances.
“It was a great experience,” Jones said. “I loved every minute of it. Police work is something I want to get into once football is over, or if football doesn’t work out.”
Football is working out pretty well so far. Jones is one of the top defensive tackles in the Big Ten Conference, and a leader on a young Nittany Lions line.
“He’s got the confidence,” said Dale Moore, a detective with the Spring Township force. “To be successful in law enforcement, you need to have that. Some see it as arrogance, but it’s not really that. Confidence is something a person needs in law enforcement.”
Moore recalled a specific domestic disturbance involving a family with a 12-year-old son. The family had moved to Centre County from a large city, and the boy had gotten himself into some trouble.
“We kind of sicked DaQuan on the kid,” Moore said. “He was able to talk with the kid, motivate him, help him do what he was supposed to do.”
The boy played youth football, and made a connection with the big tackle from Penn State.
“He wrote to me afterward, asking, ‘What can I do?,” Jones said. “I talked to him about not always going along with his friends, tried to help him fight through the temptations. It was a good outcome.”
“In this kid’s life, it really helped him,” Moore said. “It’s nice that DaQuan was there that day. He was someone the kid could relate to.”
Another memorable incident occurred during a highway patrol. With Jones riding shotgun, an officer pulled over a car — then things got interesting.
“Two guys immediately got out of the vehicle, which is never a good sign,” Moore said. “The officer wasn’t sure whether they were going to fight or argue or flee or whatever. But the officer said their attitude changed right away when DaQuan stepped out of the cruiser. And DaQuan read the situation himself. He thought, ‘This doesn’t look good.’”
Jones said: “My presence there, maybe it helped when they saw it would be 2-on-2.”
Size can help in such heated situations, but it can also be a drawback, Moore noted.
“He’s a big guy, and police cars aren’t really built for big guys,” Moore said with a laugh. “That might be his biggest challenge in law enforcement — finding a police car that fits him.”
Jones is the latest in a series of Penn State athletes who have gotten law-enforcement experience with the Spring Township department. “Quite a few football players have come through here,” Moore said.
The first player Moore recalled was safety Shawn Mayer, who was an administration of justice major at Penn State. Mayer worked at Spring Township in 2003, after completing his eligibility with the Nittany Lions. He later played for the New England Patriots.
“I remember that he didn’t get drafted, and he was devastated,” Moore said. “But a lot of guys did get drafted onto pretty bad teams. Because Shawn didn’t get drafted, he ended up with the best team out there and got to win a Super Bowl, which was nice for our department.”
Linebacker Navorro Bowman, now an All-Pro with the San Francisco 49ers, worked with the local police force after landing in hot water himself over a fight at a campus fraternity in 2007.
“He definitely was somebody who, if you needed somebody tackled, it would be no problem,” Moore said.
But Bowman served another purpose with the Spring Township force.
“We used him mainly for community service, going into schools and places like that,” Moore said. “He had gotten himself in some kind of trouble at Penn State. So, he could tell them about how he had a minor scrape here or there, and maybe what not to do.”
Jones will someday have an opportunity to play professional football. He’s rated by NFL.com as the top defensive tackle prospect in the nation.
The officers at Spring Township will be watching and rooting for him to succeed, even if he later makes his way back to law enforcement.
“Hopefully he’ll be in the NFL for a few years first,” Moore said. “If this is his chosen field, I’m sure he’ll have plenty of opportunities. But he’ll make a lot more money playing football.”
Follow Chip Minemyer on Twitter @MinemyerChip.