BALTIMORE — Jalon Jones is sitting in the coaches office at St. Frances Academy, where he starred at quarterback last fall, leading the program to a perfect record in his only season there.
During a reporter’s visit in May, he’s talking about his commitment to Florida, his relationship with Gators coach Dan Mullen, etc., when the conversation turns to his family’s rich athletic history.
“He’s the worst athlete in the family,” St. Frances coach Biff Poggi chimes in from the other side of the room, jokingly.
Jones laughs. A high school football star with a scholarship waiting for him at one of the premier college programs in the country, Jones is already blazing an impressive path for himself.
But, yes, his family’s feats would cast a large shadow over anyone.
Tanya Hughes, Jones’ mother, was the 1994 NCAA Woman of the Year, a four-time NCAA high jump champion from 1991-93 at Arizona, finished 11th at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain, and won gold at the 1993 World University Games. Among other accomplishments.
Michael Jones, the quarterback’s father, was a starting linebacker and captain for the football team at Colorado that went 11-1 in 1989, losing only in the Orange Bowl to Notre Dame.
And Jocelyn Jones, Jalon’s older sister, was a coveted star basketball prospect before she even got to high school and now plays at North Carolina.
“It’s kind of interesting,” Michael Jones says over the phone. “Being the youngest and the smallest, I mean his sister kicked his butt back in the day. I mean, his sister, she [committed] to UNC in the eighth grade for basketball. So he grew up in her shadow. …
“That’s how it was. He was a little kid. He was a little guy. We always tried to tell him, ‘Your time is going to come, don’t worry about it.'”
Jones isn’t little anymore, and his time is indeed coming.
Initially committed to Mullen at Mississippi State, the 6-foot-3 4-star dual-threat quarterback flipped to Florida and immediately became the headliner of the Gators’ 2019 recruiting class a few months after Mullen arrived in Gainesville.
He fits the mold of what Mullen looks for in a QB, and he’s eager for the competition that awaits in Gainesville with fellow Mullen recruit Emory Jones (no relation) already on campus and veterans Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask set to be redshirt juniors by the time he arrives.
“I’ve got to compete anywhere I go,” Jalon Jones says.
That doesn’t intimidate him. After all, he’s been competing for his share of the family spotlight since he was old enough to remember.
Keeping up with the Joneses
Hughes was in her first semester of grad school at the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Ariz., when she met Michael Jones at a party. He had finished his playing career and was working in the area.
Eighth all-time in tackles (349) in Colorado history, Jones signed with the San Diego Chargers, but as he tells it, there was no place for him after future Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau (a first-round pick that year) arrived.
Hughes, meanwhile, was still in the midst of her athletic prime, training to try to make it back to the Olympics in 1996.
“Tanya, she dwarfs us all. She won four national championships in college. The only reason someone won the year after is because she graduated,” Michael Jones jokes. “She dominated the high jump in college. It wasn’t even close. She was probably the most athletic out of all of us.”
And when Jones learned the couple was going to have their first child, Jocelyn, he couldn’t help but think of the athletic potential their daughter would derive from those genes.
“As my dad would say, it’s in the DNA,” Hughes says. “What’s really funny, I think when I got pregnant with Jocelyn, the day I told Mike I was pregnant he said, ‘Oh, I’m going to have an All-American.'”
Jalon would arrive a few years later, trying to keep pace with his sister from the beginning.
If she was in the gym putting up shots, he was there rebounding. When Jocelyn started working with a personal trainer at a young age, even younger Jalon was going through the drills too.
“We didn’t push them into sports, but they just gravitated towards it,” Michael Jones says. “And I always told them, I didn’t care what they did, they were just going to go after it. So if they played chess, I was going to get them a chess trainer, period.”
Says Hughes: “From my perspective, it wasn’t a thing of pushing them. What I wanted to do as a mom was expose my kids to a lot of things.”
The flute, saxophone, drums, guitar, singing in the chorus, marching band, tennis lessons, swimming, soccer, etc.
But she could see the competitiveness in her kids from the very beginning. Both children started soccer at the age of 4, and while some kids were just there to be there, Jocelyn and later Jalon were there to win. That made Hughes proud, and they’d find their respective paths from there.
“That’s a litmus test, right?” she says of seeing early that her children were meant to be athletes like their parents.
Jalon was a good basketball player too, but whether he’d admit it or not, Hughes thinks he chose football because it was his dad’s sport.
“If his dad was a basketball player, he’d probably be a basketball player, to be honest,” Hughes says. “That’s his dad. Boys want to be like their fathers.”
Jalon has watched some of his dad’s old college clips and teases him.
“I make a lot of jokes with him that all he did was jump on piles,” he says. “… He said, ‘That’s how you get the assisted tackles.'”
In turn, Michael, now a pastor and city councilman in Richmond, Va., just gushes about how proud he is of his son, how impressed he is by the amount of work Jalon puts into being a quarterback, studying “film on top of film on top of film.”
Hughes, meanwhile, is now a managing director for a financial technology company while still finding opportunities to coach and mentor athletes, through USOC speaking functions and serving on the board of directors for the Institute for Sport and Social Justice and the National Leadership Council for the University of Arizona Foundation.
While she jokes that all of her old Olympic clips are packed away on VHS tapes, she knows her children appreciate her background and all that she accomplished. She sees it in how receptive they are when she’s worked with Jalon on the track, refining his starts, or when she discusses the mental side of sport with both he and Jocelyn.
“I was blessed to have accomplished a lot, to compete at the [highest] level. Working hard, giving it 100 and understanding the mental game, the mental aspect of sport, that’s really your competitive edge,” she says.
“So I feel blessed to be able to speak to them from a perspective of somebody who’s competed at a high level, and I try to share those lessons with them and coach them with those skills. I may not be their athletic coach, but from a mental perspective and life perspective I’m just trying to give them [those] strengths.”
Time to shine
From those genes and the parenting of two highly successful athletes, no, it’s no surprise to see what Michael and Tanya’s children have achieved.
To that end, Michael had a favorite saying for his kids growing up.
“My dad’s favorite line was they’re not paying for college for either me or my sister. They’ve done enough birthing us, they gave us all this ability and it’s our responsibility now to go and use it,” Jalon says. “He always told us, ‘You can either think or play your way into college, but we’re not paying for it.'”
No problem there.
Jocelyn played in all 31 games last season for the Tar Heels as a redshirt freshman, averaging 4.7 points and 4.0 rebounds in 15.5 minutes per game.
Jalon is emerging from his sister’s shadow now, though. He made the decision to transfer out of St. Frances Academy and go through his senior year of high school back home in Richmond to be closer to family.
But all the same, he’ll be one of the most high-profile high school quarterbacks in the country this year, looking to prove that Mullen’s keen eye for talent has indeed found his next star at the position.
And, of course, looking to live up to his proud lineage.
“He’s like, ‘Look, I’m going to show you all that I’m the baddest thing on two feet in this household,'” Michael Jones says. “It’s a healthy competition because we all support each other. We all do. No matter what it is we do, we just want to see the other thrive.
“Is he playing with a chip on his shoulder? I think he was because everyone was focused on all these other QBs around the country. He was pissed that he was a 3-star for so long, but it just drove him.”
Jones was stuck behind a senior quarterback as a freshman at Varina High School before transferring to Henrico High School as a sophomore. But he didn’t feel the competition in the Richmond area was pushing him to his full potential.
Jones attended a camp at St. Frances Academy up in Baltimore and decided the level of football and moving a few hours from his family would both prepare him for college.
“I had reached my ceiling in Richmond. I wasn’t going to get pushed like I needed to be to get ready for college,” he explained last month.
Jones passed for 1,025 yards, 11 touchdowns and 1 interception while rushing for 819 yards and 9 TDs last fall, helping St. Frances to a 13-0 record. That included a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship and a dominant season-capping 41-3 win over Utah Class 6A state champ Bingham in the GEICO State Champions Bowl Series on ESPNU. Jones seized that national spotlight, rushing for 178 yards and 2 TDs and also throwing for a 78-yard score.
He’s now rated a 4-star prospect and ranked the No. 7 dual-threat QB in the 2019 recruiting class, according to the 247Sports composite, as his profile and stock keep growing.
“I think the biggest thing, he saw that he could play with the best in the country,” Michael Jones says. “I don’t care who you are or where you’re from, you’ve got that question in the back of your mind. I don’t care how good you are. … And you go out there and you do it and your confidence just grows.”
The confidence is there, and his time has arrived.
At this point, it’s all a countdown until he gets on campus at Florida and starts all over, trying to prove himself, trying to rise up surrounded by and challenged by other talented players. More established players. Older players.
Jones will try to make his name with the Gators, which really, is a process and pursuit he has plenty of experience with already.
“I always was like, ‘When is it going to be my time to get in the spotlight and be the family athlete?'” Jones recalls. “So my dad was just like, ‘Just keep working and be patient.’ And so my time came my tenth grade year and it’s just been up since then.”
The bar is set mighty high within the family, but Jones has earned his shot on the big stage now, his chance to chase his own heights.