By Bill Renje
LOVEJOY, Ga. — There’s an intersection called promise and opportunity where the roads of hard work, endurance, positive mentorship and being attentive to God’s plan all meet.
That intersection is the current destination of 24-year-old Omari Jones who will currently embark on a professional career in the Canadian Football League.
After graduating as a member of Jacksonville State University’s Class of 2015 with a Master’s Degree in criminal justice, Jones has kept up a hectic pace over the last year between substitute teaching at Lovejoy, Mundy’s Mill and Jonesboro, in addition to coaching for the Lovejoy football program as a defensive assistant.
All the while, the 6-2 230-pound defensive end kept alive the hopes of a professional football career by rehabbing from a microfracture injury which resulted in knee surgery, ending his final season of eligibility at JSU in 2014 after only three games.
Although Jones thought his football career might be over after college, he didn’t want to look back with a case of the “what-ifs,” so he pushed himself through a rigorous 14-month conditioning program.
“It was in the back of my mind (that my career was over)”, Jones said. “But I just didn’t want it to end the way it did. I talked to my parents about it, prayed about it and I just felt like God had a plan for me to keep playing.
“I couldn’t even run at first, the knee would swell and need to be drained. But eventually I was feeling good, and running with the (Lovejoy players). By December and into January, I was pain free and was like ‘I’m back.’”
That dream of playing professionally will soon become reality as Jones just inked a contract with the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks. The Redblacks, a finalist for the Grey Cup (the CFL’s Super Bowl) in 2015, had expressed interest in Jones after his senior year and told him to let them know when he was healthy.
Jones reached out to the organization earlier this year and then won a spot at a recent tryout camp. He will begin his professional football journey with mini-camp at the end of April, training camp in May and the start of the CFL season in June.
For Jones, the two-degree graduate, the educator, coach, and now professional football player, the long road began at Mundy’s Mill High School.
Lovejoy Wildcat defensive coordinator Cory Johnson was the defensive line coach at Mundys Mill at the time, and current Wildcat head coach Ed Carson was the defensive backfield coach. Both saw promise in Jones.
Jones showed that promise, potential and drive on the way to becoming a standout 2010 graduate in the classroom and a three-star recruit on the field according to Rivals.com.
Johnson, his position coach, would become a mentor for Jones. He could see then that Jones was headed for promising destinations in life.
“During his high school days he was one of more focused young men I had been around,” Johnson said. “He knew what he wanted and worked relentlessly until he obtained his goal. He maintained a great GPA as well as being a leader inside the school building.
“He has always been mature beyond his years. He faced several obstacles during his college playing days. We have spent a lot of time texting and talking on the phone trying to figure things out. Through it all he stayed faithful that God would order his steps and lead him down the right path.”
Spending the 2015 season as a Lovejoy assistant helped the rehabbing Jones to keep his football mind fresh as well.
“I started developing relationships with the players and we would talk football and life,” said Jones. “I learned a lot and enjoyed breaking down film and game preparation with the defensive staff.”
One of those players Jones developed a relationship with is soon-to-be Lovejoy graduate Chris Henderson. Henderson is headed to South Alabama on a full scholarship and, like Jones, is a defensive end.
“He is definitely a good role model and had a huge effect on the way I played this season and my performance in the classroom by making sure I was on top of my grades as well,” Henderson said. “(Coach Jones) always told me that the sky is the limit and taught me to raise my bar, pushing me to be the best player and young man I can be.”
One can definitely see and hear the lineage of mentorship being passed down from position coach Cory Johnson to his player, defensive end Omari Jones and now position coach Omari Jones to his player, defensive end Chris Henderson.
Time will tell where the football dreams will take Jones to, but he’s well positioned to succeed in life with two college degrees hanging on his wall. There’s also no doubt that the cycle of influence will continue with Jones, those around him, and those that will come after him.
“I’m so extremely excited about him getting this opportunity to continue his dream. He has a great story to share and I’m just glad that I was there to share some of it with him,” Johnson said.