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T.J. Jones, a native of Lake City, Florida, returned to his home state for a football game last Saturday. It was the first time he played in Florida as a college football player, and his second touch ended with him in the end zone.

The moment was special for Jones.

“It was a great feeling, man,” Jones said. “God is just great to me. It’s like something you see on a movie, I go back home and get my first touchdown.”

Now, this movie didn’t have a fairy tale ending for Jones and the Blazers, who dropped their fourth consecutive road game in the setback at Florida Atlantic.

The fact that his family members were in the stands helped take the sting out of the loss. Football has always been important to Jones. Nothing, however, is more important to him than family.

Jones grew up surrounded by a large family. His father, Terrence Jones, worked in construction, building houses for a living. T.J. had two brothers, two sisters and two cousins who he calls his brothers because they grew up in the same house. He either shared a house or was never far away from aunts, uncles, other cousins and grandparents.

“My mom passed, so all of us had to grow together and just stick together,” said Jones, who was four years old when his mother, Tyronica Powell died in a car accident. “It takes a village. Everybody just stuck with me. Growing up, I just stuck with my family. They kept me out of a lot of things and just showed me a better way. I just took it day by day.”

Jones said it wasn’t hard to find trouble in Lake City. The temptation was daily.

“It’s a tough area,” Jones said. “Sometimes you feel like [trouble is] chasing you. It was hard to leave trouble alone, but I beat the odds. I’m blessed God made the way for me. I’m thankful and blessed.”

Like many in his community, he chose football as his path out of the neighborhood. It wasn’t hard to find a role model. His brother, Tiger Powell, was a three-star running back at Columbia High in the class of 2010. He committed to South Florida but started his college career at Jones Community College in Mississippi. He finished at New Mexico State.

Jones had developed into a speedy receiver when it was his turn to play at Columbia High. He was a four-star recruit, with a reported 39 college offers, after catching 42 passes for 833 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior.

He could have stayed close to home – Miami and Florida were among his offers – but surprisingly chose to sign with Penn State.

“It was a tough decision,” Jones said. “Once I got there, it was even tougher. It was a culture shock, just being that far away from home. I had options to stay close to home, but, being from that area, I just wanted to see something different. The weather was crazy.”

He was at Penn State for two seasons, playing in eight games without a catch. He made the decision to return closer to home. He said the family atmosphere at UAB is why he chose Birmingham.

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Jones played in eight games last season with eight catches in 2021. This season, he has a team-high 23 catches for 189 yards in eight games. Most of his work comes on jet sweeps and short passes with the offensive coaching staff looking to get the ball to him quickly and take advantage of his speed.

“The first thing that really sticks out to me about TJ Jones is his attitude and his mentality,” said UAB head coach Bryant Vincent. “He’s a team guy. He’s a fierce competitor. His leadership has been great this year. On the sideline, in between series, I’ve just been super impressed and proud of him this year. He’s an explosive player, that can do a lot of things for this football team. He’s got great speed, he’s got great ball skills, he’s really developed and grown from last year to this year. He’s going to continue to help us win games.”

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email steve.irvine@1819news.com.

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