“I always knew what I could do:” Jolly looks to build on breakout 2019 season


Megan McCulloh

Junior cornerback Shaun Jolly caught five interceptions in his breakout 2019 season. Now heading into 2020, Jolly has been named to six different preseason All-American teams.

Connor Davidson, Senior Reporter

Coming into the 2019 App State football season, cornerback Shaun Jolly was not on many people’s radar. In 2018, Jolly only made one tackle the entire season and most of his playing time was on special teams. 

Jolly flipped the script in 2019 and quickly became one of the best cornerbacks in the nation. He scored an overall grade of 91.7, good enough to tie LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr. for No. 1 in the nation. During the season, Jolly was responsible for 45 total tackles and five interceptions, and tied for first place nationally with two interceptions returned for touchdowns. Jolly credits his success to good preparation and family motivation.

 “It starts in the offseason as all football players know. If you have a good offseason it leads to a good season,” Jolly said. “It originally starts with my dad. He challenges me everyday to do something I haven’t done before. He always challenges me to be better than I was the previous day.”

 Jolly, now a junior, has gained national attention heading into the 2020 season. He has been named to six different preseason All-American teams and also finds himself on preseason watch lists for the Nagurski Trophy and Bednarik Award, which are given to the nation’s best defensive player. Despite these high honors, Jolly isn’t letting anything go to his head.

“I look past it. I always knew what I could do, I was always the underdog,” Jolly said. “I appreciate the recognition because I’m finally getting the recognition that I feel that I deserve, but I’m still looking at it as if I’m the underdog.”

In January, App State hired James Rowe as its new cornerbacks coach. As soon as he saw Jolly take the field, it didn’t take long before he realized the talent he had in front of him.

“He was dealing with a soft tissue injury when I first got here, and then once he got out there and got rolling, obviously the talent was evident and he’s a good kid who wants to be great at his craft,” Rowe said. 

Prior to coaching at App State, Rowe was an assistant defensive backs coach in the NFL for Washington. After working with players on the professional level, Rowe can see Jolly taking his game to the next level.

“He’s very instinctual, really good hands, processes information quick,” Rowe said. “He’s very professional in the way he goes about his business as far as a football player, and that reminds me of the better players we had at Washington.”

As he has progressed, Jolly’s role with the team has changed. He has taken on more of a leadership role among his teammates, and his expectations for himself reflect that.

“I’m just continuing to make plays and being the best teammate I can be,” Jolly said. “I’m just trying to be more of a leader and an old head that some of these younger guys can look up to.”

Even though Jolly has made a lot of progress on his game over the last few years, there is another facet of the game that he has worked on to elevate his level of play to the next level.

“Really where he’s trying to improve his game is really learning how to study his opponent, try to win in the classroom and try to add whatever it takes above the neck to take that thing to the next level where it isn’t just physical,” Rowe said. “He has a lot of physical tools, very fluid athlete, great ball skills, but just taking it to the next level mentally is really where I’ve seen him make strides.”

After a breakout season in 2019, Jolly now has high expectations from people across the nation. With the new season creeping closer, Jolly will get the opportunity to prove whether or not the hype surrounding him coming in this season was well-deserved.