CLEARWATER, Fla. — It’s raining outside, but the sun is shining as Tennessee signee Jacquez Jones opens the door to his home and welcomes company.
The weather proved to be a fitting metaphor for Jones, an energetic and upbeat 19-year-old who has overcome adversity to find athletic success and a path to become the first member of his family to attend college.
“I always say to myself, ‘Why not me?’” said Jones, a standout wide receiver from Clearwater High School who possesses a 37-inch vertical jump and a 4.5-second laser-time speed in the 40-yard dash. “I don’t use excuses, because excuses do nothing but hurt you. So instead of asking yourself, ‘Why me?’ when things get tough, ask, ‘Why not?’
“So I’ve just always asked, ‘Why not me?”’
The statistics might say there are several reasons why the odds were against Jones getting a scholarship.
But he did it. And on Thursday, Jones arrived in Knoxville ready to get set up to begin classes at the University of Tennessee on Monday.
On the move
Jones’ freshman year of high school would have been enough to break most young men, or at the very least, prevent him from playing sports. He’s always had it tough.
Jones’ mother was incarcerated when he was 7, leaving him to live with his grandfather.
“She just didn’t come home one day,” Jones said. “No one talked about it.”
Things didn’t work out living with his grandfather for the long-term, so Jones moved in with his aunt for sixth and seventh grade, and then it was on to living with a guardian in the eighth grade.
In ninth grade, his grandmother took him in — but she lived in St. Petersburg and Jones wanted to continue going to school in Clearwater, regardless of the measures that had to be taken.
That meant a 5:30 a.m. wake-up call most weekdays for his 2-mile walk to the city bus stop, and then it was a 30-minute bus ride to Clearwater.
Other times, Jones would find friends to stay with overnight so he wouldn’t need to make the difficult commute, especially during football season.
“On days we’d have practice, I’d get home around 9 at night,” Jones said, still wearing his ever-present smile. “It’s just being mentally strong, knowing you have to go hard every day, and I’ve had to get my brain to work like clockwork.”
Coach Don Mesick, then an assistant coach at Clearwater, knew his player needed a place to stay in the city.
Mesick also knew Jones’ upbeat personality was appreciated by most everyone in the football program, and Patti and Mike Bryant, parents of then-Clearwater QB Garrison Bryant, were the next to welcome Jones into their home.
“We were originally thinking it was just two weeks,” Patti Bryant said with a smile, “but now that you’ve met Jacquez and heard what he’s all about, wouldn’t you welcome him into your home, too?”
Jones got his first SEC offer in the spring of his junior year from Kentucky’s Darrin Shaw, and Tennessee was quick to follow.
The Vols’ consistency provided some order to what had been a chaotic life for Jones, something Patti Bryant took note of.
“One thing about Tennessee we liked, they were very consistent. They called every Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. Coach [Butch] Jones or Coach Z [Zach Azzanni] would call.”
The family was just as impressed when they took Jacquez to Knoxville for his official visit.
“Coach Jones was with us the entire time, it seemed like,” Bryant said. “He was there from Friday night through Saturday, for the bowling and the breakfast at his house, even the tours.
“One of the most impactful things was when Coach Jones talked to Jacquez before he left and said, ‘Not too many people have an opportunity to pick their family, and you’ve picked your family twice.’”
Tennessee, it would be.
Bringing the juice
Jones says he’s “ready to take off like a rocket” and “bring the juice” when he arrives for the second term of summer school, which begins Monday. Jones finished his class in law studies in June and has been prepping for July workouts.
Mike Bryant, whose son Garrison had a scholarship offer to New Mexico but chose to play professional baseball instead, said Jones’ abilities were obvious from the onset.
The biggest hurdle was securing his birth certificate, with Jones’ mother and grandmother both in jail when he arrived at high school.
“I remember coach threw Jacquez on the kick return, and he runs 45 yards, sideline to sideline, and cramps up,” Mike Bryant said. “His talent was obvious. But he didn’t get his birth certificate until there was four games left in his freshman season, and once he got it, he was able to play varsity the rest of his career.”
The birth certificate issue was frustrating for the coaches as well as the Bryants, but Jones didn’t let it bother him.
“I just got blessed to always have a smile, and I’m never down,” Jones said. “If I had a bad day yesterday, I’m going to wake up and smile, and I forget about it really fast … just let it ride, and let it go, because you can’t control everything.
“All you can do is affect the next thing you do, not the past.”
Jones admits he gets excited when he nears the end zone. Perhaps too excited.
More than once, Jones has performed a front flip into the end zone as he scored a touchdown.
Most recently, he did a flip into the end zone in the FACA All-Star Classic high school all-star game in Lakeland, Fla., in December. Jones had 8 catches for 126 yards and the touchdown.
“It was a full-on flip, running full speed, two feet and flip,” Jones said with a laugh. “It’s something I’d always wanted to do.”
Jones, who said he had 52 catches as a junior and 56 catches as a senior, said he’s going to “act like I’ve been there” when he scores his first touchdown for the Vols.
Having been recruited by Tennessee offensive coordinator Larry Scott, he knows he had better approach things with a serious mindset.
“Coach Scott, he gives you 100 percent of his opinion and the truth,” Jones said, “and he makes sure your mind is right.”
Jones, who will wear No. 21, had to make sure his academic standards were met before he could report, hence his later reporting date.
Fellow WR signee Jordan Murphy also got academically qualified for admission to Tennessee in June and will begin classes on Monday.
Tennessee WR signee Jacquez Jones discusses his impending journey from Clearwater to UT
Posted by Tennessee Volunteers Insiders on Wednesday, May 17, 2017