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Hutch's Jones Story 5/31


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Jets' Jones is a coal miners' son ... and it shows

Thursday, May 31, 2007


Star-Ledger Staff

Thomas Jones and his six siblings would gather each morning before school and pray, just about the time their mother was emerging from somewhere five to 10 miles underground in the coal mines of the southwestern Virginia town of Appalachia.

Well aware of the perils in the cold, damp, dark-as-midnight mines -- deadly explosions, rock slides and cave-ins are not uncommon -- the kids prayed for Betty Jones' safe return from the "hoot owl" shift, which kept her away from the family from midnight to 8 a.m.

"You knew the chances of something happening down there," Thomas Jones said recently. "There were a lot of situations where people would be called to the (school) office, and you pretty much knew that something must have happened to their dad....

"It's a dangerous job."

For 19 years, Betty Jones toiled in the mines, donning overalls, a hard hat and incredible courage. Jones' father, Thomas Sr., worked in the mines for a year before being laid off. A former member of the U.S. Air Force, he worked a laundry list of jobs: radio/television news broadcaster, coal miner, college admissions official and a maximum-security corrections officer. There wasn't a day that Thomas Sr. didn't punch a time clock.

"My mother and father worked very hard," Jones said. "That's what I saw growing up. Those were the examples that I had."

Jets coach Eric Mangini and general manager Mike Tannenbaum, who have put a premium on character and hard work while building the team's roster, jumped at the chance to get Jones and make him their No. 1 running back.

To fill the hole created when likely Hall of Famer Curtis Martin's right knee gave out before the 2006 season, the Jets acquired Jones in a trade with the Chicago Bears in March -- a month after he had rushed for 112 yards in the Super Bowl -- and promptly signed him to a five-year, $20 million deal that included $10 million guaranteed.

"He's the type of person we're looking for in our program, and I hope that his work ethic is infectious to our other players," Tannenbaum said of Jones, who will turn 29 in August. "He's a lead-by-example guy."

When Jones was 5 years old, he promised his parents he would make it to the NFL, buy them a new house, a new car and get them out of the coal mines for good. Every Mother's Day and Father's Day, not having enough money for gifts, he would give his parents a card, repeating his pledge A few months after he was the seventh overall pick in the 2000 draft, Jones sent home the first installment of his signing bonus -- roughly $1.5 million -- so his parents could buy their dream house. Having raised their kids in a tiny, tar-paper home, the Joneses could afford a house with a huge kitchen, which comes in handy for family reunions, and a swimming pool.

"My wife and I were ecstatic. So were the other kids," Thomas Sr. said. "...That's the kind of person Thomas is in terms of commitment to family, people and his employers."


Betty Jones went underground in 1979, knowing she could make nearly three times as much money by trading her air-conditioned office as a secretary at the local community college for a hard hat and the hazardous mines. With bills to pay and seven mouths to feed, she and Thomas Sr. ignored pleas from their families not to go.

There were no women working in the local mine, but Betty and another woman (who quit two years later) were hired and given just one week of training -- four days in the classroom and one day underground.

"After going underground for one day, I said this wasn't for me," said the charming and well-spoken Betty Jones, who was a heavy-equipment operator. "It was dirty, damp and very dangerous. I wasn't going to come back. But another woman and I decided to give it a try for one week and 19 years later I was still there."

Betty and Thomas Sr. are from a family of coal miners, but that didn't make their time underground any more bearable.

"It was tough work, physically demanding," said Betty Jones, who was set to go back into the mines after recovering from a back injury when Thomas was drafted. "But again, that's where the money was. It was very difficult as a woman, but I had a job to do. I had to carry my weight. I didn't want the men saying I couldn't do the job."

Said Thomas Jr.: "Now, when I look back at it I think, 'Wow.' But growing up, that's all you know. It was like, 'My mom works in a coal mine. That's her job.'"

Above ground, Thomas Sr. was busy molding sons Thomas and Julius, who's three years younger and also reached the NFL and started last season for the Dallas Cowboys, into men.

He didn't want them spending their lives in the coal mines. He stressed education and made them read the entire newspaper, not just the sports section. He taught them about persistence, perseverance, patience and having faith in the "good Lord."

"All my two sons are used to is hitching up the wagon and pulling," Thomas Sr. said. "There's no substitute for hard work."

Thomas Jr. graduated with a degree from Virginia in three years and is just 15 credits shy of a master's in psychology. Julius graduated from Notre Dame with a degree in sociology after being ruled academically ineligible for the 2002 season.

In fact, six of the Jones' children have college degrees and the seventh will be a freshman at Virginia this fall.

When Thomas Jones told his father he wanted to be a football player and asked for a set of weights, Thomas Sr. instead instructed him to start doing push-ups and sit-ups.

Often, in the middle of the night, Thomas Sr. would hear the plank floor creak as Thomas, and later with Julius, did their push-ups and sit-ups because they had forgotten to do them earlier. The boys would crawl out of bed at 6 a.m. every morning, even during the summer, to run up and down a nearby hill some 20 to 25 times.

"I give my father a lot of credit: He opened our eyes," Thomas said. "He told us there was another world out there. Sometimes when you grow up in a small town, you don't know that."


Thomas Jones describes himself as a "workout warrior," and one look at his chiseled 5-10, 220-pound frame gives credence to his boast. He has the upper torso of a bodybuilder. His lower body is built for speed.

Three days a week he arrives at the Jets' facility about 6:30 a.m. for the team's off-season workouts. The first session runs from 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., but that's only a warm-up for Jones.

After the group session, a sweat-drenched and focused Jones takes a brief break and attacks the weight room again. He'll call it a day around noon, although he sometimes comes back to work in solitude, driven by the memory of his soot-covered mom emerging from the mines.

Jones works out six days a week, resting on Sundays. In addition to working with the Jets' training staff, he has a personal trainer. And his teammates have no interest in trying to keep pace.

"No," Jets fullback Darian Barnes said emphatically. "I will not work out with Thomas. There's nooooo way."

Said Jones: "The more I work out, the harder I work, the better prepared I'm going to be on Sunday."

Though the past three seasons in Chicago were good ones, Jones hasn't always had a chance to shine on Sundays.

A stellar career at Powell Valley High School (he had two 3,000-yard seasons) and three years as a starter at the University of Virginia -- he finished with a school-record 4,698 all-purpose yards and broke several records set by recently retired Giants star Tiki Barber -- helped make Jones a first-round pick in 2000 by the Arizona Cardinals. But he quickly found himself far away from home with an organization that couldn't get out of its own way.

The Cardinals were 15-33 during his first three NFL seasons, and Jones rushed for 1,264 yards and nine touchdowns in that span. The team even sent him to a psychiatrist and suggested he was faking an injury; Jones had three dislocated ribs that affected his breathing and his play.

"It was tough to go into that type of situation when you're young," Jones said. "You're picked that high and you're pretty much expected to turn the whole team around. When that doesn't happen, people put labels on you.

"But I wouldn't change my career if I could. When I'm done, I can say I came from a tough situation (in Arizona) and overcame a lot of obstacles."

Jones asked for and was granted a trade to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There, coach Jon Gruden helped jump-start his career and he rushed for a then career-high 627 yards and scored three TDs. The next season, Jones signed with the Bears as an unrestricted free agent.

"I never lost faith in God that He would put me in the right situation," Jones said.

Even so, Jones knew before last season that Chicago wasn't big enough for he and Cedric Benson.

Benson, drafted fourth overall in 2005, was given $16 million guaranteed and Bears general manager Jerry Angelo staked his reputation on him. And even though Jones was focused enough to lead the Bears to the Super Bowl with 1,210 yards and six touchdowns, he was also studying NFL rosters.

"The Jets are the team I was looking at," Jones said. "...I knew there was a chance I might be traded. I followed the Jets all the way to the end of the season, even when they made the playoffs. This was definitely my first choice."

And as Jones begins anew with the Jets and takes over for Martin, it can all be traced back to the morning prayers, the late-night push-up and sit-up sessions, watching his parents do the grunt work of a nation, the father-son talks.

"Thomas saw the rigors we endured and the schedule we had," said Thomas Sr., who, along with Betty, owns a music catalog business. "He was always determined. He has always been a hard worker.

"Work ethic is nothing but preparation. It's not when you sit down to take the test, it's what you do prior to taking the test. That's what has engulfed him."

Dave Hutchinson may be reached at


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Great article on TJ and the fact that he was following the Jets and wanted to be here is another good thing and probably the reason why he was so quick to sign and seemed to give us a discount at 5 years, $20 million, when he could've gotten much more on the FA market if released. Great pick-up and he's going to do one hell of a job in the backfield for us for the next 3-4 years.

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"I never lost faith in God that He would put me in the right situation," Jones said.

"The Jets are the team I was looking at," Jones said. "...I knew there was a chance I might be traded. I followed the Jets all the way to the end of the season, even when they made the playoffs. This was definitely my first choice."

SFJ's take; Let's hope the Man upstairs put him here for the purpose of getting us a Super Bowl victory this year

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