As the temperature plunges toward freezing in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, one of the saddest thoughts for many Minnesotans is that a month from now they will wish the temperature is near 32 degrees. The Arctic temperatures will plummet below zero and wind chills will reach temperatures that could literally freeze your skin after just a few minutes of being outside. It is a place that can be as inhospitable as it gets.
As inhospitable as the temperature can be during the winter, Minnesota is known to have a very friendly and amiable group of people living within its borders. While this may not seem so when you are travelling up 35W at rush hour, the truth is that if you are at the mall, shopping at the grocery store, or even walking through the streets of downtown Minneapolis, you are likely to come across many people who will smile at you and even give you a friendly greeting. It is part of what has become known as “Minnesota Nice.”
The Arctic temperatures are no match for the friendliness of most people in the state, primarily because they are “used” to it, as used to it as anyone can get that is. For those who have lived here for the better part of their life, it’s just part of the beauty of the land that the people have come to embrace each year.
For those who have grown up in cold like this – Minnesota, Wisconsin, Siberia – it makes perfect sense to attend one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the country – Macalester College. However, for a young man coming from Hanceville, Alabama, a place where the average temperature is 53 degrees in January, choosing to come to St. Paul, MN to continue his academic career seems almost abnormal. That may be true, but that is part of what makes Jacob Jones such a truly unique young man.
A Man of Two ‘Faiths’
Jacob Jones grew up in Hanceville, Alabama where football is as important to the people of his community as God and family. The football culture was so prevalent that he soon found himself wanting to play the sport himself.
“Growing up in the South where football is almost a religion, it was something that was a part of my life. Around middle school, even before that actually, the culture is so influential and growing up around it I just loved playing on Friday nights under the lights.”
While loving the sport of football, his Christian faith was also very important to him. His faith became the inspiration during much of his youth and helped him to navigate the early years of his life. It was an important set of values that his father taught him, and for which he is very thankful for.
“My father has been a big influential factor on my life especially in the way that I’ve grown up with my morals and my spirituality. Just the way I live life and approach life, my dad has been one of the big influencing persons on me. I grew up going to church every Sunday and so I definitely have some people in my church family that I look up to very much. They have helped to make me a better man who can handle adversity, whether it is on the football field or in making good choices. ”
To many, a devout faith in God and a desire to batter over some linebacker attempting to tackle him may seem like some kind of contradiction in values, however that is simply not the case. While Jacob does intend to punish some would-be tackler, there is no malice in him at all. Instead, it is all about a desire to help his team win. It is the loyalty to his brothers on the team that drives the junior on the football field.
“The atmosphere and comradery, the competitive nature of going out with my brothers and competing on Saturdays. There is just something about football that separates it from the other sports. Just a pure physical nature of the competition is something I really enjoy.”
Making a Major Change for the Future
Looking ahead to graduating from Holly Pond High School, Jacob Jones was looking for the right place to continue his academic career. His senior season he was playing both linebacker and running back for the team, and realized that he really wanted to be able to continue his football career at a Division-III school.
While wanting to play football, the most important part of his decision was to find a college or university that offered a rigorous academic curriculum that would challenge his mind. He had many opportunities out there, but it was a trip to Macalester College that really helped to make the decision an easy one.
“Coming out of high school, academics was something that I was looking at that was very important. At some points, D3 football programs are a dime a dozen, but the academics of Macalester really stuck out as well as its football program. In my recruiting process, Coach J (Macalester Head Football Coach Tony Jennison) talked me into coming up to visit and once I came up here I loved it. I loved the coaching staff, the atmosphere in the team, and the academics of Macalester was one of the selling points.”
While the academics helped to make Macalester College stand out, he could tell from his brief visit to the school that the comradery on the team was something really unique. He knew that something really special was going on with this team, and this critique has only solidified over the years.
“In high school we had a team, and we were very close but we had a lot of cliques within the team. It was not like everyone was friends with everybody. Once I got here I noticed very quickly that there is not a big disparity between classes. Everybody hangs out with everybody, everybody is friends with everybody, there is not feuds on the teams. The chemistry is phenomenal and is something that has really enhanced my experience here at Macalester. My brothers on the team are connections I want to keep and will have for the rest of my life.”
While the chemistry of the team was really something that he loved, it was the way that the team carried themselves that has impressed him over the years. There is a code on the team that they expect big things from each other, and no one on this team, whether senior or freshman, starter or reserve, is afraid to correct a teammate if they seem to be veering off course.
“Being in the brotherhood and everyone kind of having a similar mindset when it comes to those things is important. It’s kind of like a self-accountability within the team. Doing something that puts you into one of those kinds of situations just isn’t acceptable here. The team helps to really help to keep everyone accountable here.”
It is this commitment to excellence, on and off the field, that has become one of the most valued parts of being at Macalester College. Jacob is proud to be on the Fighting Scots football team, because the standard is set high by Coach Jennison, the rest of the coaching staff, and the team in general.
“I like being identified with the football team. I think the football team has a great reputation, and being a part of that is something that I guess I value as a person. The identification with the team and with my brothers. I don’t really care too much about what people think about me, otherwise, but I like that the football team has a good reputation on the campus and I value that.”
An Expanding Contribution to the Fighting Scots
In Jacob Jones’ first two seasons at Macalester College, all-conference running back Zandy Stowell was manning the rushing duties. Stowell was an absolute workhorse, and so the carries for other backs was quite limited. In his freshman season, Jacob rushed for 109-yards on 27-carries. A year later, he would rush for 221-yards on just 36-carreis and scored his first touchdown. Most impressive was his 6.1 yards per carry average, proving that the 5-8, 183-pound back found holes to gain yards and was not an easy man to take down.
This season, Jacob had a career year, one that bodes well for how good the Scots offense will be next season. With Jeremy Stephan injured, the junior became the featured running back in several games and set career highs. He had 122-carries for a team high 465-yards and scored 5-rushing touchdowns. He also added 11-catches for 124-yards receiving.
Coach Jennison praised the running back’s performance this season, noting that he “gained a lot of tough yards for this team,” and is “one of the toughest guys in the conference to try to tackle.”
It’s another one of those interesting contradictions that makes Jacob Jones such a unique person. Off the field, he is one of the nicest, friendliest people you will meet. He isn’t boisterous and is quite mild-mannered to be honest. However, with the ball in his hands or when he goes out to block a linebacker attempting to sack his quarterback, Jacob is as fierce as it gets, and actually relishes the hitting part of the game.
“I enjoyed it a lot in high school. I played linebacker in high school and I enjoyed hitting people, and I don’t like as much that they get to hit me now. However, there’s something about growing up as a little kid, watching a running back or quarterback and thinking about how much you’d like to be that guy. Running backs just became my niche. But I must admit that I love being able to make a big block. When a linebacker comes through and really hasn’t had a chance to size you up, and you just take them out. That is a lot of fun.”
A Firm Foundation to Build From
Jacob Jones is not only performing well on the field, but is having great academic success at Macalester College. He is involved in great activities to improve the lives of those who don’t have all the advantages that he has had, and is proud to be able to give back. It’s an attitude that he has learned from two people.
“I have a great relationship with my mom and my dad, and have learned a lot about what kind of person I want to be. I talk to my parents on a pretty regular basis and my dad is always very interactive with me about football. My parents live 16 ½ hours away and my brother plays Friday night so coming up here to watch me play can be a challenge, but they do what they can to come and watch me.
“My relationship with my parents is very valuable to me. They have been so supportive, and I cannot express how much they have done for me. I am so blessed because of who they are and how they have taught me, and so I feel that same kind of responsibility.”
That foundation has also allowed him to become strengthened in his faith while at Macalester. His beliefs are not commonly shared by his fellow students, but their questioning of his beliefs has only helped to further his understanding of what it means to be a Christian.
“I’m a very conservative guy and that’s not what the college is by any means. But it’s something that challenges your perspectives, what you believe and why you believe it, because you are around intelligent people who were not going to take the ‘I believe this because that’s what I’m told.’ They want to know what you believe and why you believe it. My spirituality is something that’s very valuable to me and being here at Macalester has been something that’s really strengthened even more. It makes it so that you have to know the ins and outs of your religion.”
The junior has established himself as the ultimate in contradictions. He is a tough-minded, battering football player, who is also a very kind-hearted and intelligent young man. He is a young man born and raised in the South who is now “enjoying” Arctic temperatures each winter. He is at one of the most liberal colleges in the country, yet standing firm in the traditional Christian beliefs taught to him by his parents and his pastors. He is a young man who gained all the advantages that come with a first-rate education, but is most interested in being a quality guy for his team, his coaches, and this world in general.
Jacob Jones is an interesting set of contradictions, of that there is no doubt. However, there is also no doubt that he is an outstanding young man who combines the very best of what people should be, even if those characteristics seem at odds with one another at times. The most impressive part of it all is that he is just a junior. One can only imagine the great incongruities that will be talked about a year from now.
By Robert Pannier