East County Sports

Former Matador Jones leads Dixie ‘D’



St. George Spectrum & Daily News


ST. GEORGE, Utah – When Dixie State University safety Mike Jones began to contemplate what his life would be like without football, the junior captain didn’t hold back on ambition.

“I don’t know, I might be trying to run for president or Congress or something,” Jones said. “After this football career, who knows, I might try to run!”

It’s not hard to envision Jones with his captivating personality creating a good-sized following, much like what he was done at DSU. Jones carries himself in such a way that it’s almost hard not to look up to him (even if most players on the team are, in fact, looking down at the generously listed 5-10 defensive back).

Jones can play — he led the team in tackles last year as a sophomore — but it’s that character that really makes him special.

“He brings a toughness to the game, his work ethic is unmatched, but his character and who he is as a person really stuck out to me,” Dixie State head coach Shay McClure said.

Junior linebacker MIKE JONES, of the Dixie State Trailblazers, from Mount Miguel High.

Humble beginnings

Who Jones is as a person was shaped in a working-class neighborhood in southeast San Diego. He grew up in a home with a mother, two older sisters, and grandparents who helped raise him.

“It’s a mixture of military, low income, and lower middle class,” Jones said. “It’s a hard area to grow up but we produce some of the best athletes.”

Those athletes, like former Denver Broncos great Terrell Davis, served as inspiration for the young kids in the neighborhood. If they could go on a better themselves, why not the next generation? Maybe that’s why sports have always been such a key part of Jones’s life. He started running at the age of 3 and was playing competitive football by 7.

He said playing gave him a good base. But he also got that from home.

“Michael comes from a great upbringing,” McClure said. “I know his mother very well and I know his grandparents very well and they raised him right.”

That was seen before he ever stepped foot in St. George. During his prep days at Mount Miguel High, he was part of a group of young African-American students who reached out to the city’s inner city youth. He might not have the same name recognition as Davis or some of the other NFL players that have come from the neighborhood, but he was embarking on his own success story. A story that included getting recruited and eventually to the southwest corner of Utah to play the game he loved while getting an education. That’s a story that can be just as influential.

“A lot of us just want to make it out and represent our city,” Jones said.

Being overlooked

Jones still remembers how he felt on that dark day. San Diego State coaches came into his high school football team’s offices and delivered some disappointing news: Jones was too short to play for the Aztecs. He was heartbroken. His hometown team told him he wasn’t good enough.

But he used the slight as motivation.

“I just want to be that much better because I’m getting overlooked — no pun intended — every day,” Jones said. “I have to be that much better and make myself look that much bigger.”

He looked big enough for McClure. And maybe that’s why Jones speaks so highly of his head coach. He was the one that took a chance on him, the one who focused on what he could do, not what he lacked. And because of that, McClure has turned into much more than just a coach for Jones. He’s turned into a father figure.

As the Dixie State players were leaving the field following a late practice last week, Jones looked around at his teammates and spread his arms out toward them. Then his voice started to crack.

“I’m not going to lie, this is my family,” Jones said. “Coach Mac is basically like my dad, (defensive coordinator Willie Mack) Garza is like an uncle to me. They have taught me so much about being a man and having great character.”

Leading by example

Twice a week during the spring, McClure and Jones would meet together and talk about what it means to be a team captain. They discussed how Jones needed to carry himself and what he needed to do to unite the team.

“He just embraced all of it,” McClure said. “It was really fun for me to do with the young man.”

Some of the things were easy; stuff that Jones had been doing since he first got to Dixie State. There’s a reason Jones was named captain as a junior — he commands attention. Not by what he says, but by what he does.

“Coming from the family I come from, we lead by example,” Jones said. “We carry ourselves with such conviction that people often respect us just how we look.”

That respect came pretty quickly as his teammates saw his dedication to training and to the team. And then they started to follow suit.

“His work ethic rubbed off on people,” McClure said.

Now, McClure wants him to be more vocal. Something that fits with Jones’s communication skills. Jones is a communication major, not because he was looking for a simple degree, but because he enjoys learning and talking with other people. He said he thinks that makes him a better captain, a better teammate, a better person.

“I can tell what someone is feeling by just how they are walking,” Jones said.

As a nearby teammate walked towards him, Jones was asked what he was feeling.

“He’s feeling a little bit of pain, but he’s ready to rumble,” Jones said. “He’s feeling it’s an RMAC championship season.”

That’s a pretty good political answer.

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