‘Consumed’ with football
Instead, Jones threw himself headlong into football. He moved in with his grandparents in Kent, Wash., where he spent eighth grade through high school. In the past, Jones and his grandmother had talked almost every week at her home, sharing his latest football news.
After the tragedy, however, Jones immersed himself in football, even skipping an all-expense-paid family trip to Disney World in favor of training.
“He kind of withdrew,” his grandmother, Dorothy Swift, said. “I guess within himself, to fight through it, he threw himself even more into football. He was consumed with it at that time. Opposed to thinking about what happened, he chose to absorb himself into football and I guess that was less painful for him.”
Jones’s athletic talent allowed him to letter in swimming, track and football at Kent Meridian High. As a sophomore, he caught the eye of the baseball coach and though he never played for him, the coach created an outlet.
“I’ve seen you out there,” the baseball coach told Jones. “You’re fast. You could be our Deion Sanders. We’ll call you ‘Primetime.’ ”
Jones politely declined.
“We’ll call you ‘Showtime.’ ”
“That became my alter ego and a way for me to get away from the reality,” Jones said. “I created my own reality. And that’s who I lived in on the football field.”
“Showtime” Jones starred for the Royals every Friday night, playing almost every position, including punter, on a team that won two games in three seasons. He earned a scholarship to the University of Oregon, which later rescinded the offer.
“It was heartbreaking,” said Jones, who said he left the house in tears when he got the word. “I just couldn’t pass the SAT. I kept missing by 10 points. Every time. And my fourth time I passed it.”
That was just in time to join the University of Idaho football program as a defensive back, where he stayed for three years before transferring to Portland State. Jones recorded four interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown, in his final college season.
“He was a kid that needed a lot of guidance, but he was a kid that was easy to guide,” said Alundis Brice, who coached Jones at both schools. “He was hungry and he knew what he wanted.”
‘I’m ready to shine now’
Jones signed with New Orleans as an undrafted free agent in 2009, but an Achilles’ tendon injury sidelined him during his rookie season, the year the Saints won the Super Bowl. He spent last season on the Saints’ practice squad until he signed with the Redskins in December.
Playing football is “what I figured myself to do,” Jones said. “In New Orleans, I learned a lot. And here I am [in Washington] now with a chance to shine. New Orleans found me as a diamond in the rough. And I’m ready to shine now.”
Now, being a Jones also means expending every ounce of energy at Redskins Park — here his dreadlocks dance across the name on his burgundy practice jersey — for the chance to become one of the NFL’s greatest success stories. Being a Jones means setting “not a good example, but a great example,” for his two younger sisters, his wife and his eight-month-old son. Being a Jones means being the best husband to his wife and the best father to his son, whom Jones kisses under the Redskins Park suite tents after every practice.
In 15 months, he will be able to show his mother what being a Jones means.
Tonya Jones is scheduled for release from the Graham Correctional Institution in Columbia, S.C., on Nov. 24, 2012. Jones plans to send a black limousine stocked with daiquiris to the prison’s front gate, to escort his mother to her sister’s house, where Jones and his family will be waiting with welcome home signs and open arms.
“I just knew I had to overcome. For my sisters. For myself. Just for everyone looking at me. . . I didn’t want any pity. I didn’t want any sympathy. I wanted them to say, ‘Oh this guy overcame a lot.’ ”