Jason Jones is a first-year defensive line coach for Brookwood High School in Snellville. The Albany, Ga., native played football at the University of Mississippi for four years after a redshirt season his first year. He went on to play professional football in Germany and indoor football in Colorado.
Jones was a senior and first-team all-state player on the 2007 Westover team that went on the longest playoff run in school history. After winning the Cotton Bowl during his redshirt freshman season at Ole Miss, Jones was part of a comeback team at Ole Miss in 2012 that turned around from back-to-back losing seasons and won the Compass Bowl under first-year head coach Hugh Freeze. Sometimes confused with Ole Miss’ former defensive backs coach Jason Jones, he went on to play professional football overseas before returning to the states. He is the founder of Victory Beyond the Game, an outreach ministry aiming to apply Jones’ college and professional career experiences to assist athletes desiring to pursue purpose beyond performance.
He and staff writer Taylor Denman discuss Westover’s historic 2007 season, what he learned during the college recruiting process and how he shares his experiences as a Brookwood assistant football coach.
TD: After your first year on Brookwood’s coaching staff, what were you expecting as a coach and what’s been new for you in your new job?
JJ: To be honest, it was actually a really fun year. I learned more than what I thought I would. It’s actually exceeded my expectations. The brotherhood of coaching takes me back to the brotherhood of playing. All of your guys have to be in sync in order for the other ones to be successful as well. As a coach, sometimes you’re more than a coach. You’re a leader, an encourager and a mentor, a role model. The kids really need that. It’s one of those things where you always have to be on your P’s and Q’s, no matter what. That’s high school football.
TD: Let’s walk it back. You’re from Albany and went to Westover High School?
TD: What kind of success did you guys have at Westover?
JJ: If you let the record show, we’re not really a football school. We’re a basketball school, which I played as well. The success at Westover has really been based in the leadership. I hate to say it, but my senior year was the best in school history in football. We put some things together and there was one time during the season, going into Game 8, we were 3-4. We were playing against Monroe High School and we ended up beating them by one point. We got the good news that next day, one of our games earlier in the season got forfeited because one of the teams we played earlier had a couple of guys playing that were ineligible, too old to be playing in high school. Just like that, in a whirlwind 24 hours, we got two wins in the win column. That really changed our mind frame and we went from 3-4 to 5-3, just like that. It was definitely a whirlwind for us.
TD: So you guys ended up making the playoffs after all.
JJ: We did. We entered the playoffs 6-4 and made a nice little playoff run. We went up to Thompson and played the Bulldogs in the Brickyard and won by two points. The next week we went to Henry County High School. We beat them up pretty good in the second round. We were considered some road warriors and we enjoyed going on the road. At that point, we were 8-4. Going into the third round of the playoffs, we got beat by Chamblee High School at Chamblee. That was the best year in school history as far as Westover football goes.
TD: Did that teach you something that you can carry into coaching?
JJ: Yeah, it definitely taught perseverance and consistency. One thing that our coach put together was the best gameplan for the athletes we had. We might have been lacking in a couple of places, but for the most part, our attitude was playing together. We never pointed fingers and the perseverance and endurance of our mindset and the feeling of winning were really like a big thing for us around that time. We had every opportunity to give up on the season at one point. I guess we wanted something different and we had the ability to do something that had never been done before.
TD: Were you playing defensive line at the time?
JJ: I never played defensive line in high school. I was a linebacker. I played middle linebacker just about every snap of high school.
TD: Were you picking up defensive line techniques even as you were playing linebacker?
JJ: When I went to Ole Miss in college, I ended up playing linebacker for two years and then moved to D-end. We had a big-time recruit at D-end, but he couldn’t gain weight. So they decided to switch me and him.
TD: What was that like when you’re adapting to a position you never played before?
JJ: Very different. You find out the haves and the have-nots and you find out the do’s and the don’ts as well. You have to hang around a lot more. You have to find favorites now. You had to change from being a fan of (former Ole Miss linebacker) Patrick Willis to being a fan of Julius Peppers. You have to adapt to your environment. It was very different, but to be honest I liked to play D-line more than when I played linebacker.
TD: What made Ole Miss so enticing a place to play for you?
JJ: That was just — my visit was everything. That was one thing that superseded my expectations. When I got the phone call about Ole Miss recruiting me, I didn’t know where Ole Miss was located. I knew of Eli Manning and Deuce McAllister, but that was about it. I took a chance on going on an official visit. I still made it known that I wanted to attend Auburn. Auburn was one of those schools that was recruiting me for years but never offered. When I got back from my visit from Ole Miss, I got a text from a recruiter at Auburn in class. He said, “Hey, Big Man. We’re going to start recruiting you at tight end.” I read the message and closed my phone. When class was over, I went outside and called (Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt) and committed to Ole Miss. I just knew that I didn’t want to play offense.
TD: Did you feel like they were responding to the fact that Ole Miss was recruiting you heavily?
JJ: Probably so. I think the bigger picture was the run-around. I played tight end a little bit, not a whole lot, but that wasn’t something I saw myself doing. I only did it to help my team. That wasn’t something I thought I’d be successful at the next level. That honestly made my recruiting easy at that point. It was done at that point. I can easily say it was the best five years of my life, playing ball, going to school and graduating from the University of Mississippi.
TD: Were you playing in the 2008 and 2009 seasons?
JJ: I actually redshirted in `08, then `09 was my redshirt freshman year.
TD: Well, a few good years there. Two Cotton Bowl wins back-to-back.
JJ: Two Cotton Bowls, two off years of just not getting it done and then my senior year, making that comeback and one hell of a season that was, actually.
TD: Did you have NFL ambitions even before college?
JJ: You grow up with those ambitions and you want to pursue that goal. I felt like for a while that I loved the game of football to death. But you come to a play where you realize, it’s what I do, not who I am. It’s not going to break me to go to the NFL or not. If I never made it to the next level. I wanted to have no regrets.
TD: You said you played indoor ball?
JJ: Yeah, I actually went overseas to the GFL, the German Football League. In 2014-15 I went out to play indoor football with the Colorado Ice.
TD: How different was German football?
JJ: German football plays by the American college rules there, which was very familiar to me. A lot of the Germans play just as intramural. To a lot of them, it’s an intramural sport. They don’t practice and show up once a week and play. For them, it’s a game. For us Americans, especially if we’re trying to get to a different level, it’s like getting film. Getting a portfolio and letting the bigger leagues know we’re still playing ball. Overall, it was fun. A lot of time on your hands. I would encourage anyone to do it if they have an opportunity.
TD: Indoor must have felt pretty different after that.
JJ: Playing defensive line wasn’t that different. I think for other positions — linebackers, DBs, safeties — it was different for them. But playing D-line was about the same for us.
TD: To wrap up, it seems like you’ve led a football life. How do you try to explain to kids you’ve coached what the game has given you and how do you emphasize that?
JJ: One thing I really harp on is the idea that I don’t just teach them about the game of football, but I teach them about life. That’s one thing, that everybody is going to encounter life one day. No matter who it is. I developed a business where I do speaking engagements — it’s called Victory Beyond the Game. Our motto is pursuing purpose beyond performance. It’s a platform that I use to express ,no matter if you play 10 years, 15 years or 20 years at the highest level, there comes a day to look in the mirror and understand you still have life to go. What is the victory beyond your game? You look at Derek Jeter, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant — all of these guys came to a stage of retirement. No matter how you do it, you’re going to have life after that, so you might as well start preparing now. Impacting lives and making sure they understand that you’re not a failure because you didn’t make it to the highest level of your sport — here’s a lot of life to live beyond that.