Welcome to Picayune, Miss.
This small town of 14,000 people may not seem like much, but it’s the first home of ASU’s starting spur linebacker, redshirt senior Anthony Jones.
Things were different in the small, sleepy southern town, a stark contrast to Tempe, which Jones now calls home.
“The way of life, it was just slower than what it is here,” Jones said. “It was fun. … It was a good childhood.”
But there was another difference.
“Not as many opportunities,” said Jones, who has been playing football since he was 5. “Not too many people make it out, not too many people go Division I, so moving here was a great opportunity.”
There may not have been many opportunities in Mississippi for Jones, until one day, opportunity would come knocking in the form of a visit from Jones’s uncle, Derrick Earl.
Earl, a 17-year Arizona resident, offered to have Jones come and live with him in Arizona for a summer. Jones accepted and spent the summer with his uncle just as a chance to get out of Mississippi and see a new part of the country.
“I thought that was a good idea just to get out of that environment,” Earl said. “It wasn’t a bad environment. It’s the South, so it’s a little bit different. Just so he can come and see something different.”
When Jones first set foot in the state, he knew he wanted to live in Arizona full-time.
It took some convincing for his family to accept the idea, though.
“I kept pressing the issue to my mom and my grandparents to let me come out (to Arizona),” Jones said. “Finally, like my sophomore year, they decided, ‘OK, we’ll let him move out here, but he’ll want to move back,’ but I never moved back.”
With a new home, Jones attended a new school as well: Hamilton High School, an Arizona high school football powerhouse.
Jones said that while he was in Mississippi, he had never considered being able to get a college scholarship for playing football.
After the move, that all changed.
“My sophomore year, I played a little bit on varsity and got my first verbal offer from Oregon State and then they just kept rolling in after that,” Jones said.
After Oregon State, FBS offers from Minnesota, UA, Washington State and ASU rolled in, but Jones didn’t want to leave Arizona. Instead, he decided to stay in the state he had come to love and play with one of his good friends.
“I fell in love with Arizona. I wanted to stay out here,” Jones said, “Gerrell Robinson was one of my best friends in high school and I wanted to come play here with him.”
Jones mostly sat his first two years at ASU, redshirting in 2009 and sitting the season out in 2010. But with a workmanlike dedication, Jones would make it back to play in all 13 games of 2011 and 11 games in 2012, starting three of them.
His willingness to learn and burning desire to play has endeared him to linebackers coach and defensive coordinator Paul Randolph.
“When I first met him, he had that look in his eye like he wanted to learn, he wanted to play,” Randolph said. “He’s really worked his tail off trying to become a better fundamental linebacker.”
Now Jones’s hard work is finally paying off. He’s the Sun Devils’ starting spur linebacker, a hybrid linebacker-safety position that requires exceptional athletic and playmaking ability.
It’s been a long journey for Jones, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I never thought once to go back home,” Jones said. “I never wanted to move back after I moved out here, ever.”
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