From New Orleans To The NFL: A Receiver’s Route

By Megan Manfull
Updated: July 7, 2007

HOUSTON — By the time Jacoby Jones was 3 years old, he already knew about Sundays. Every weekend he would wake up and say, “Football, Mama. Football.” Emily Jones would then get out her son’s beloved Sunday attire — his New Orleans Saints Archie Manning uniform — and get him ready for church.

The uniform was way too big. The pants were supposed to stop at Jacoby’s knees but hung all the way to his ankles. The helmet could be turned in circles.

“Everybody laughed at Jacoby,” Emily Jones said. “Every Sunday I had to put that uniform on him. We’d go to church with him wearing it. My brother-in-law gave him the nickname Joe Rock and would say, ‘Boy, you’re going to be something. You’re going to be a football player.’ “

The Texans rookie wide receiver believed it, but few others did. He was small — real small. It took him years to grow into that Saints uniform. When he was old enough to play pick-up games in the streets of New Orleans, the other kids teased him because of his size and sent him to the sideline. Coaches often relegated him to the bench and tried to steer him to other sports.

The summer before Jones’ senior year of high school, he attended football camp at LSU. Coach Nick Saban told Jones, who stood 5-foot-7 and weighed 160 pounds, he was simply too small to make it in football.

With no scholarship offers for football, Jones accepted a track scholarship at Southeastern Louisiana. Before he left for college, he went to his mom’s office on the University of New Orleans campus and wrote a message on her board that still remains.

“He wrote his basketball jersey number, his track record, and then he wrote his football number,” said Emily Jones, who was divorced 20 years ago and raised her son alone. “After his football number, he wrote: To the NFL, I pray.”

During his one-year stint at Southeastern, Jones realized his heart wasn’t into track. He was more interested in competing in 7-on-7 catching drills against the football players.

Jones’ love for football wasn’t the only thing getting bigger during his freshman year. The growth spurt he longed for in high school finally arrived. “I got home, and my mom was like, ‘What are you on? Steroids?’ ” Jones said. “I said, ‘What do you mean?’ “

That summer, Jones transferred to Lane College in Jackson, Tenn., and the NCAA Division II school with an enrollment of just 1,000 became his haven. He became a three-sport athlete, playing football and basketball while also running track.

At 6-feet-2 and more than 200 pounds, Jones was considered one of the team’s “big” receivers. But for the first time, he stood out on the field because of his skills, not his size.

“I had a chance to watch film, and the rest was history,” said Lane College football coach Johnnie Coles, who was hired prior to Jones’ junior season. “As soon as I got the job, his house was the first one I went to.”

Jones became one of the best players in the history of the SIAC. In 2006, he became the first player to earn all-SIAC honors at three positions (receiver, punt returner and kick returner) in the same season. That was the same year he led the conference in receptions per game, yards receiving, kickoff returns, punt returns and all-purpose yardage.

Despite such accomplishments, Jones wasn’t a scouting priority for NFL teams. Nevertheless, he attended the North-South all-star game in Houston in January and played so well that he was invited to the more prestigious East-West Shrine Game at Reliant Stadium the following week. His practices had scouts buzzing.

Three months later, Jones was watching the NFL draft unfold on TV.

“My phone rang, and it was the Texans,” he said. “Mr. (general manager Rick) Smith called and said, ‘We’re going to take you.’ First thing I said was, ‘What took you so long to call me?’ “

Tears started rolling down his cheeks. Selected with the ninth pick of the third round, the scrawny little kid in the Archie Manning uniform had achieved his goal.

In the NFL, the competition will improve drastically, and the intensity will rise. Jones can’t even imagine the 70,000 rabid NFL fans he will encounter each Sunday. “My flesh will probably be crawling,” said Jones, who turns 23 next week. “I can’t wait to see what that’s like.”

Give him time. He’ll grow into it.