Where Are They Now? Ravens Super Bowl Hero Jacoby Jones Isn't Done with Football

Tyler Dunne @TyDunne NFL Features WriterJanuary 31, 2019

BALTIMORE, MD - NOVEMBER 30: Wide receiver Jacoby Jones #12 of the Baltimore Ravens looks to the sky before a kickoff return in the fourth quarter against the San Diego Chargers at M&T Bank Stadium on November 30, 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland. The San Diego Chargers won, 34-33. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

He's still outrunning everyone.

Nobody's close, either.

On a football field, at full stride, Jacoby Jones has nothing but green in front of him and dances like there's no tomorrow when the damage is done.

Of course, instead of playing the hero in a Super Bowl, today he's at Division II Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee. At a practice. With no fans in the stands. And instead of leaving the San Francisco 49ers in his dust as a blur of a returner for the Baltimore Ravens, he's a wide receivers coach for his alma mater.

It's a new vocation he took up this past fall, and it suits him. With his cleats on, gloves strapped tight and ankles spatted up, he runs routes with everybody. He stalks behind the school's kick returner, shouting instruction in real time so the kid sees what he sees.

He's always open to a race.

And he always wins.

"I'm like, 'Boy, you don't want this s--t," Jones says. "I take off running with them and look at 'em and start striding, like 'Y'all can't run with me. I haven't even changed gears yet.'"

When he does, we all know what happens.

We all remember the plays.

Editor's note: This is the fourth installment in B/R's "Where Are They Now?" series, which profiles some former NFL postseason greats, their historic moments and what they're doing now.

Part 1: Freddie Mitchell

Part 2: Willie Roaf

Part 3: James Harrison

Part 4: Jacoby Jones

Part 5: Tracy Porter (2/1)

Part 6: Mike Jones (2/2)

So many players are remembered for longevity—Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections and gold jackets. Few are remembered for moments in time as much as Jones is. 

Three moments, specifically. All during Baltimore's 2012 Super Bowl run. Joe Flacco was dealing, with 11 touchdowns, no picks and a 117.2 passer rating. The defense was fueled by three future Hall of Famers. And Jones was the one-man haymaker.

Divisional playoff round. Down 35-28 in Denver. Forty-two seconds left. Ball at their own 30. The call? Four verts. Go deep. "Like we're in the backyard," Jones recalls. This was a scenario the Ravens had practiced for again and again all year. Jones knew Denver was in Cover 2, and he knew Flacco was masterful at holding safeties with his eyes—tricking them into thinking he'd chuck it up the seam. Still, as he burnt his man and the ball seemingly fell from the heavens, part of Jones thought Oh s--t, he threw it! He caught it, pranced into the end zone and Jones didn't think any of this was real because he didn't hear a sound.

He looked for a flag. No flags.

"You could hear a rat piss on cotton," Jones says. "That's how quiet it was."

Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

Receiver Torrey Smith remembers running and screaming for a good 30 yards through that beautiful silence.

"Even before that, you could see them celebrating on their sideline," Smith says. "They thought this game was in the bag. And then...boom."

Baltimore would go on to win in overtime.

Then came the Super Bowl. What Jones remembers most about that week is how "comfortable" he was being back home in New Orleans. Once practice was over, each day, he'd sneak out of the back of the hotel to head back to Mom's house. He'd chill with family, catch balls out of a JUGS machine and then make sure to sneak back into the hotel by curfew.

Game day arrived, and again it felt like he was back playing in his backyard.

He caught one 56-yarder for a touchdown, spinning and shimmying his way over the goal line. And despite publicly warning the 49ers not to kick it to him beforehand, he opened the second half with a 108-yard kick return for a score. A 108-yard TD return against Dallas earlier that year, he notes now, is what convinced coaches to let him take any kick back he pleased. If Jones raised his arm, his coverage team knew the ball was out of play. That David Akers kickoff sailed back, back, back, back...Jones didn't raise his arm...and now he has a record that may never be broken.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 03:  Jacoby Jones #12 of the Baltimore Ravens returns the opening kick-off for the second half 108-yards for a touchdown against Tramaine Brock #26 of the San Francisco 49ers during Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdom
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

"I'm digging, I'm digging, I'm digging," says Jones. "I'm running through the hole. I don't care how big it is. If you kill me, you kill me. If you miss me, goodnight Irene."

Jones' score and Justin Tucker's ensuing extra point gave the Ravens a 28-6 lead. They held on for the 34-31 triumph.

What made Jones rise up in these moments? When the Ravens absolutely needed him? Jones calls himself "half-quarter horse, half-raptor." He'd tell himself, out loud, mid-game, "Make a play! Go be great!" and then would do precisely that.

And he never lost perspective.

Jones reached the mountaintop—jukin' and jivin' in front of 108-plus million viewers—but also knew how lucky he was to even be in that position.

Knew he had Lane College to thank for it.

"This school gave me a chance at life," Jones says, "so that's why I felt I had to come back here and help coach."

The school took a chance on the kid who was kicked out of St. Augustine (Louisiana) High School for being, in his words, "a class clown." It took a chance on the scrawny 5'7", 150-pounder who tells B/R he only played one year of high school football at Abramson High. Jones spent one year at Southeastern (Louisiana) University on a track scholarship but wanted to transfer when the school wouldn't let him play football.

The NFL shouldn't have been on his mind back then, but it was. Always. He grew up idolizing Deion Sanders and Peter Warrick.

"When you make that the dream, you're going to keep wishing on it and hoping it happens," Jones says. "When you make it a goal, you go get it."

BALTIMORE, MD - NOVEMBER 01: Wide receiver Jacoby Jones #12 of the San Diego Chargers looks on against the Baltimore Ravens during the first half at M&T Bank Stadium on November 1, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

It helped that he grew...and grew...and grew...to 6'3". (Mom even asked back then if he was taking steroids.) And after a cousin who played basketball at Lane College put a word in, there was Jones sitting with the coaches and his mother at the college. Jones was told he'd be on a one-strike system. "Mess up once," he recalls them telling him, "and you're gone." Jones promised he would not botch this golden opportunity, and despite his awful transcript, Lane gave Jones his shot.

As Jones puts it, "I got into school with a 0-point. ... They let me in, man." Asked what that GPA really was, he won't say. He just adds, "They gave me a chance at life. I straightened up. I got my degree. And I got drafted.

"There's a point in life when people start to realize you only get so many opportunities in life. They're not going to keep coming. You have to take advantage of them at one point."

That moment he was drafted—Houston taking him 73rd overall in the 2007 draft—is one Jones cherishes even more than those three plays in the 2012 playoffs. He got the call, his mom fainted and, before he knew it, everyone was in the middle of the street doing the "bus stop" dance.

In the nine NFL seasons to follow, Jones caught 203 balls for 2,733 yards and 14 touchdowns and broke teams' backs as a returner with 10 touchdowns (including the postseason), averaging 27.0 yards per kick return and 9.7 on punts.

He didn't dance through players. Didn't juke around them. He was all business, hitting a crease at a gear faster than anyone else.

That speed's a mystery Jones himself has an explanation for. Whenever anyone asks him where it comes from, he points to the father who deserted him at 18 months. "My dad was a crackhead, so all that s--t he was smoking was probably in my genes," says Jones, with a slight chuckle. "That's why I don't do drugs. People say I run like a crackhead. I wonder why."

Jones met his father for the first time four years ago. They got dinner, hung out on Bourbon Street for a bit and that was it. They haven't met since.

His father's absence from his life as a kid has made Jones determined to be there for his six-year-old.

And it's why he knows he can make a difference for every 18- and 19- and 20-year-old he speaks to at Lane.

Everything seemed to be stacked against him growing up. No Dad. Hurricane Katrina destroying his home. Poor grades in school. That growth spurt kicking in so late. Even once he was in the NFL, adversity struck. Jones was cut by the Texans after a muffed punt inside his own 10-yard line in the playoffs, which was recovered by the Ravens and returned to the 2—a mistake that led to countless death threats.

But he found a way to make it. To get the last laugh as a Super Bowl champ.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 03:  Jacoby Jones #12 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates with teammates after he returned a kick-off 108-yards for a touchdown to open up the second half against Tramaine Brock #26 of the San Francisco 49ers during Super Bowl XL
Al Bello/Getty Images

And he never forgot the reason he reached those heights was that Lane College threw him a life raft when nobody else would. So of course, he's now paying it forward. Of course, Lane had a magnetic pull on him. Of course, he absolutely jumped at the opportunity to coach, to give others "a chance at life."

He had already been thinking about potentially helping out at his old school when he got a phone call from head coach Derrick Burroughs asking if he wanted to coach receivers. The idea had actually been suggested to him not long before that by the rapper Young Greatness (who's since been murdered) when Jones was hanging out with him and Saints back Alvin Kamara in New Orleans.

Jones told Burroughs, "Hell yeah," asked when he could start and jumped on a plane to Tennessee.

The competitive juices are flowing again, whether it's racing his players or teaching his players. This past fall, he worked especially close with returner Anthony Evelyn. In practice, Jones runs right behind him, yelling, "Stay straight! Don't you move! ... Hit it and get it!"

Evelyn made All-Conference with 532 yards on 23 kick returns.

Jones' goal on the field is to win an SIAC championship, but off it is where he believes he can really make a difference. He loves sitting outside of the gym and talking to whoever strolls by.

"Life is bigger than football, you know?" Jones says. "Everybody's not going to the league. Everybody's not doing this, not doing that. But what you can do is get your degree and make it in life. For yourself."

No. 1, he tells them that "women rule this world." Always respect women.

No. 2, he stresses the importance of a college degree. In the real world, he'll tell them, you can't physically fight through all of your problems. You must be respectful. Then, it's simple: "You have to pay taxes. You have to get a car loan. You have to pay your mortgage. ... I tell them the real world."

Because many of his players, like him, didn't have a father sharing such knowledge.

He envisions coaching being his future long-term. Right now, Lane feels right and he's learning every day. Just recently, while recruiting, coaches were grading offensive linemen on film. Jones learned the intricacies of pass-sets, a guard's first step, a tackle's first hand punch. And, sadly, he runs into so many talented kids who never took the ACT because nobody's even telling them such a test is needed to get into college.

So many kids can get lost in the weeds. Like he nearly did.

Smith never imagined Jones would be the first one coaching from their Ravens receiving room. He always pictured Anquan Boldin taking on that role. Chuckling, he says Jones probably looks at all of his receivers as his "homeboys."

Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones at the 2013 ESPYS.
Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones at the 2013 ESPYS.Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

But he also knows that Jones has a story that can truly resonate with them.

"He gives them hope," Smith says. "They're looking at him like, 'Hey, if he can do it, I can do it.' He's giving his time back to a place where he knows a lot of kids don't get the opportunities to make it out. Him being there, it gives them hope to continue to work.

"And if he can do it, anyone can do it. That's a huge message for any kid. To overcome the odds, and don't let your situation, your environment, really control your future.

"He can give it to them straight. He's able to talk to them like little brothers."

Moving on isn't easy for those who reach the pinnacle like Jones. Turn off that spotlight, shove a Super Bowl star into the real world and it's often not pretty.

Jones hung on as long as he could, even playing for the Monterrey Steel of the National Arena League for eight games in 2017. After bashing into the back wall on one deep ball, he decided it wasn't for him. He signed a one-day contract with the Ravens, retired as a Raven and moved on.

He never slipped into any depression, though. Never struggled much at all. Because he says he never cared that much about the game's fame. 

He insists the Super Bowl win still hasn't even hit him. He'll wake up occasionally at 5 a.m. because that was his biological clock as a player—"Like 'What the f--k am I doing?'"—but Jones was always the laid-back personality who looks for deals on sweats instead of pouring thousands into jewelry, who competed on Dancing with the Stars because he simply liked to dance. Nothing more.

Jones has been at peace. Life's been great back where it all began.

"The thing is, you play the game to what? Get a ring. To win," Jones says. "So once I got a ring and made my money and broke records, I was like, 'What else do I have to prove? I'mma holla at y'all. I'm gonna go and get some knowledge.'"

And spread that knowledge best he can.

To his son, Jacoby Jr., who is already scoring five touchdowns a game, too.

To everyone he can at Lane. He'll give kids a puncher's chance at life.

He just might have to humble them in a race from time to time.


Tyler Dunne covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @TyDunne.


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