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Everyone loves and respects college athletes. Maybe it’s because competing on a level after high school equates to a professional or semi professional athlete, or maybe the love for collegiate athletes runs deeply because they are part of prominent sub-culture because many people wish they possessed their abilities.
But what happens when a collegiate athlete suddenly stops being an athlete. If you leave the game, will fans still love you?
For Ron Jones, a former college football player, this question was answered abruptly.
When I met with Ron at an old, run down football field at Lee Senior High School for a Saturday afternoon of Flag Football with some of his friends “This guy definitely is a football player,” I thought. “He’s built just like one.”
The game was under way and I was instantly impressed with how fast Ron could run. When he caught the ball on the opening kick-off he raced past most of us and no one grabbed his flag until he reached midfield.
“Wow,” I thought. “I’ve never seen someone that big move that fast.”
I had read several write-ups and news storied about Lee Senior’s football team and Ron. Many of them mentioned his strength and how fast he was to be 240 pounds. Pictures taken by photographers illustrate him exploding and running people over with or without the ball, like a locomotive refusing to slow down when it meets a brick wall.
After being drenched by rain, Ron welcomed me to his home in Sanford, NC where he offered me a change of clothes. His mother then prepared a wonderful Chicken Alfredo dish for lunch. I couldn’t help but notice how much Ron resembled his mother. I could tell where Ron got his light spirit from. She was very polite and had a warm smile.
I whipped out my pen and pad just before we ate, prepared to ask Ron more questions about his journey through college football. Before I could ask a question he said, “Why don’t you put that away for a while. Let’s chill and eat.” I agreed.
After lunch, Ron said, “Let me show you some of my practice film.”
He inserted a DVD, flopped down on the couch adjacent to me, and pressed play on a remote that I couldn’t help but notice was not too short of life-sized. Ron had accepted a scholarship to Livingstone, a Historically Black University with a mediocre football team. Ron was playing Fullback on the play we were watching. He was much shorter than the rest of the team, but he was stocky and powerful as a bull.
On the film, the offense was lined up in an I-Formation, so I was expecting it to be a run play. That and I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t show me a film consisting of none of his highlights. As the play developed, Ron received a handoff right up the middle of the defensive line. He vanished into the defensive line, appeared at a Middle Linebacker at which point he exploded through the Linebacker, knocking him flat onto his ass, outrunning the Free Safety for a touchdown. That play was unbelievable. Running over a linebacker takes great strength and power if the linebacker is good. A Fullback outrunning a Defensive back is even more amazing.
“Even though its practice, this is one of my favorite highlights,” Ron said
He then went on to tell me that things didn’t work out at Livingstone. He broke his ankle and his scholarship was pulled. He wasn’t enjoying his experience there, so he transferred after his freshman year to UNC Pembroke.
“I spoke to the head coach at Pembroke on different occasions expressing interest in his new program,” Ron said. “He said he didn’t have any more scholarships available.”
Ron decided to take his chances anyway as a walk-on. The date was set for him to try-out for UNCP, but in a freak accident, he injured the same ankle again, preventing him from trying out.
“I was devastated” he said. “Football is my life.”
Ron continued to pursue his academic goal of being a teacher. Pembroke was not an easy adjustment for him. Dealing with the pain of physically not being able to play football, his grades began to slip and he was placed on academic probation by UNCP. A year later his financial aid was taken from him.
“I don’t have the family that can afford to pay for college,” he said. “Financial aid is a must.”
Unable to pay for college, a hold was placed on his account leaving him with a balance and unable to register for any classes.
Ron is now living in his hometown, Sanford, and has a job, hoping to eventually make enough money to enroll in school at UNCP once again.
“I have to survive out here, so now I have to work and save to one day be able to attend college and maybe even get back on the field.”
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