SMACKOVER, Ark. — Jordan Jones stopped to consider the impact his gridiron success has had on his home town and said that, ultimately, he hopes it inspires others.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from, even if it’s a smaller town like this,” Jones said, sitting in the Smackover High School field house during an interview with SEC Country last month.
“You can go anywhere you want to go or do anything you want to do. I never in my life thought I’d meet Nick Saban or be playing for the Razorbacks.”
But that’s exactly where Jones is after reporting to campus last week for summer classes and workouts, and Smackover — located just 30 miles from the Louisiana border and 300 miles southeast of Fayetteville — couldn’t be prouder.
The 6-foot-1, 175-pound wide receiver grew up in this small, quaint old town with a population of less than 2,000, and always felt like he was pretty good at football. As a youngster, he was so aggressive on the field that his nickname was “Bobby Boucher,” after Adam Sandler’s iconic character from “The Waterboy.”
As a sophomore at Smackover High, Jones caught 25 passes for 687 yards and 10 touchdowns. He began attracting some attention from major college football programs. While attending Arkansas’ summer camp between his sophomore and junior years, he wowed Razorbacks coaches with his sub-4.4 time in the 40-yard dash.
While participating in another drill, Hogs coach Bret Bielema summoned Jones to his office and offered him a scholarship that the talented wideout quickly accepted.
It was a big deal for a kid from small-town Arkansas who grew up as a Razorbacks fan.
“We don’t have any pro teams here, so it’s all you’ve got, really,” Jones said.
He remained solidly committed to the Razorbacks throughout his junior season — which ended with Smackover making a trip to the Arkansas Class 3A state championship game — but other schools started showing interest.
Those other schools included Alabama, college football’s preeminent program of the last decade under coach Nick Saban.
Saban himself made a trip to Smackover in January 2015 and tried to convince Jones to visit Alabama for its annual Junior Day a few weeks later. Bielema said Jones should go to Tuscaloosa if he wanted, but asked that he de-commit first.
Jones wasn’t willing to do that and remained a Hogs commit.
All of that outside attention was overwhelming for Smackover, which doesn’t have its football players sign with Division I programs often. The only other Division I signee many around town can remember is offensive lineman Jeff Savage, who is now a senior at Louisiana-Monroe and happens to be Jones’ cousin.
In the early 1940s, Smackover running back Clyde Scott played at the Naval Academy before transferring to Arkansas and becoming an All-America performer, but that was more than seven decades ago.
“There’s not many guys from Smackover who go on to play at the Division I level, so I think it’s really a surprise,” said Ree Ross, Jones’ grandmother. “We feel like that happens to other people. It doesn’t happen at Smackover, but now we see that it can happen anywhere.
“I think that it’s a big deal.”
Smackover coach Brian Strickland said that the attention Jones got from coaches resulted in more colleges — everything from NAIA schools up through Division I programs — showing up in town and watching his team practice, meaning other Buckaroo players got the opportunity to be seen.
“Usually in the spring, we get about 15 of 20 schools that come by,” Strickland said. “The past couple of years, it’s been 25, 30, 35. Schools have come in and then they’ve also taken hard looks at our other kids. That’s been very positive.”
In an interview this week with SEC Country, Arkansas wide receivers coach Michael Smith praised Jones as a young freshman who has already been impressive with his willingness to learn.
“He’s hungry,” Smith said. “He’s already come into my meeting room willing to learn. He’s not a kid who thinks he knows it all. He’s very humble from that standpoint. He’s also surrounded himself with some of the older guys who are gonna teach him how to be an Arkansas Razorback.
“I look for kids like that in my recruiting.”