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Reggie Jones is one of the most sought after speakers in the entire state of Washington.
The Ottawa REDBLACKS cornerback has been a keynote speaker at high schools, middle schools and elementary schools. He’s been featured at leadership conferences, assemblies, youth rallies, church services and banquets.
Just this past winter, he was featured on a NSOG (Nothing Short of Greatness) tour of speaking.
Yet, the toughest speaking engagement Jones ever faced is one he can barely remember.
Jones was just 14 years of age, a mere boy nervously standing alone in a crowded courtroom in downtown Seattle when his turn came to speak.
Tears were running down his cheeks, as Jones began to address the court and plead with a judge and jury to show leniency on his mother Tonya, who had just been found guilty of murdering his stepfather Donyea, months earlier in a domestic dispute that turned tragic.
This was early 2000 and his mother had been convicted of dousing her husband with starter fluid and setting him afire, leaving him to die from burns to 90 per cent of his body.
On the night their father died, Jones and his sisters were sleeping downstairs when they heard a “bang” and he ran up to find his step dad ablaze and on the ground.
Jones vaguely recalls telling the adult audience just how much he and his little sisters Don-yea and Nyree needed their mom at home and asked the jury to make that happen.
Jones’ mother has always proclaimed her innocence, claiming the fire accidentally started when she lit a cigarette. But the jury didn’t buy her story, and barely headed Jones’ pleas in handing her a sentence of 14 years in prison.
Jones’ life story is something right out of the scripts of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.”
So no matter how many passes he intercepts, how many balls he knocks down, or how many game-saving tackles he makes, Jones will never be defined by what he does on a football field.
With the man who taught him to play no longer around, and his mother is a Washington State Corrections Centre for Women, Jones had to become a man in a hurry and he’s done well.
“My background, growing up, my mom in prison, my dad being dead,” said Jones. “It was extremely difficult growing up in that kind of environment.
“Not having people around me, positive influences, my upbringing was difficult. But that doesn’t mean I have to be defeated. Some people use it as a crutch. A lot of people give in and use their trials as a crutch.
“But I use it as a trampoline and propel myself higher to overcoming all odds and becoming a success story. I would rather be a success story than a statistic. That right there allowed me to want to give back, and want to be involved in people’s lives.”
And regardless of what Jones does on a football field, few would doubt he is making a difference and has defied the odds.
He has everything he never had through his teens and it starts with a loving wife Kaleigh Jones, and three-year-old son Dash, and one-year-old daughter Shyne.
“As is sunshine,” says Jones laughing. “I never really thought I wanted to have a baby girl, but now that I have her, she’s amazing.
“And Dash is Dash because he’s all over the place.”
But how Jones kept it together, all through his childhood and into his teens, is a testament to his character. And sports was certainly a big part of it.
Jones starred in three sports at Kent-Meridien High School in the Seattle area before heading off to play collegiately, first at Idaho and later at Portland State where he earned a bachelors degree in Social Sciences.
The best his mother could do was follow the exploits of her son from her cell on the 11 o’clock news, hoping to hear at least the score of the game, and then waiting for relatives to send her the newspaper clippings so she could get more detail.
But others were watching and while NFL scouts passed on him, he still landed on his feet with the New Orleans Saints in their Super Bowl year in 2009 even though he was on injured reserve with an Achilles tear.
He has the ring to show for it.
From there, he’s spent time with the Washington Redskins, Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys around two stints with the Virginia Destroyers of the defunct United Football League, including a championship in 2012.
Jones really had no concrete plans to continue his playing career until REDBLACKS head coach Rick Campbell placed a call.
“(Campbell) just asked if I still wanted to play football and here I am,” said Jones, who got permission to report a couple of days late so he could run, first a golf tournament for his “Showtime for Stars” charity, Showtime being a nickname he long ago picked up. One day later he staged a football camp for youth.
Jones has already done 50 speaking engagements this year, meaning he is as busy off the field as he will be on it.
“It’s a mentoring program for student-athletes,” said Jones. “And first of all, to be one, you have to be a student first. Without it, you can’t be one.
“The reaction I get from kids is amazing. Even the teachers and staff, when they hear my story, they say ‘wow’ . . .
“It’s taking that dream of wanting to play pro ball and using it to do more than just being an athlete. Go off and be a reporter. Go off and be a doctor or a lawyer or whatever it may be.
“I’m just trying to give back what I didn’t have.”
And Jones, it seems, has given himself of life sentence of giving.