JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There have been only three local high school football players from our area who have gone on to be named Heisman Trophy finalists.
Tim Tebow three times.
And this year, former Bolles quarterback Mac Jones.
Jones was named a finalist after leading Alabama to the College Football Playoffs.
Jones’ journey has demanded patience while he pursued his football dreams. This past week, I sat down with Jones’ parents at his Pop Warner park where Mac’s teams won city and regional championships. It was there at the Mandarin Athletic Association where Jones took his first steps on a long road to football glory.
“I remember her being teeny tiny,” said Jones’ mother Holly. “I believe he started playing here when he was six or seven. He played it another field before and then came here. “We were here almost every night. We spent a lot of great times, made a lot of great friends. And of course, he really absolutely loved playing Pop Warner and it still remains to this day, some of his favorite memories of growing up.”
Jones’ love for the game was born early. Although he played other sports, including tennis — the sport his father played professionally — it was evident that football was his passion.
“I think Mac, just from a very early age, kind of epitomizes that type of kid,” said his father, Gordon. “He would watch other quarterbacks. He’d go on TV. We were going to camps. And I think the other kind of factor that you can’t teach is that he just had kind of joy and love for competition.”
Holly Jones described a scene from their home during the days after the end of one of Mac’s first football seasons.
“He was sitting in the bed watching TV all day long,” Holly said. “And I said, ‘What’s wrong? Are you sick?’ And he said, ‘No. Football is season is over. You have to find another team to play on. There has to be another season. I don’t want it to stop.’”
So whether it was flag football or 7-on-7 or Pop Warner, Jones filled his months with football, dreaming to be like another local football legend, Heisman winner Tim Tebow.
“He was eight or 10 years old,” Holly said. “And of course that was his prime time here. That was when he was really starting to get into it. He had the little wristband they would do their plays on. And on one of the back parts of that card, he did that little thing to himself. BLT. Be Like Tebow. And it was a message to himself that he did for himself during games. He could look at it and it [said], ‘Stay calm, be like Tebow.’ And it has a little quote. It’s really, it’s really cute.”
Their histories came together after Jones led the Crimson Tide to the SEC title. When Tebow interviewed him on SEC Network, Mac said Tim was his favorite player growing up and Tebow congratulated Jones for representing the 904 (area code).
In high school, Jones played for the legendary Corky Rogers at Bolles. He was the quarterback for Rogers’ final team, one that played in the state finals. It was at Bolles where Jones was paid a visit by the man who would become his college coach, Nick Saban. From one legend to another.
“Corky is obviously one of the greatest high school coaches of all time, and it was a privilege to be able to play for him,” Gordon said. “And I thought we felt the same thing about Coach Saban. Coach Saban might go down as the greatest collegiate football coach of all time, and so, they had a very similar style, which is kind of interesting. And so for us, it was kind of a natural transition for him to be able to go from one to the other.”
But the opportunities didn’t come easily for Jones in Tuscaloosa.
When he arrived on campus, he was buried in the depth chart.
In early 2019, Jones found himself in a logjam behind Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa, and battling for reps with Tua’s brother, Taulia, and Paul Tyson, the grandson of Alabama legend Bear Bryant.
To say the least, the prospects of playing looked slim.
Then Hurts transferred to Oklahoma. Tua left for the NFL and his brother transferred to Maryland. When this season began, Jones found himself as the starter.
And has he ever taken advantage of the opportunity.
This year, Jones led the nation in quarterback efficiency, yards per attempt, and completion percentage, and only Kyle Trask threw more touchdown passes, making him a finalist for college football’s most prestigious honor, the Heisman Trophy.
What’s next for Jones? He graduated this month with his master’s degree in just 3 ½ years. He has eligibility remaining, but he’s projected as a potential first-round pick, which would allow him to realize another childhood dream. One mock draft even has him going to the New England Patriots.
“That was his dream. I have scrapbooks that I’ve pulled out recently because some people have wanted to look at them,” Holly said.
“And from the time he was here, five, six years old, he was writing in his logs for school and in his daily activities, the assignments that they asked. He was saying I want to play in the NFL. And there was even one that says, ‘not sure which team yet.’ And that was when he was six, and he could barely write, things were misspelled. It was so cute.”
“I just think it’ll be super cool,” Gordon said. “If he goes to that level, I just think, you know, it’s kind of one of those visions you have like, OK, the kid goes and plays for Corky. Does well. Plays for Alabama, it goes well with Coach Saban. And I’m thinking like, ‘hey, the next part of this vision and story should be Coach Belichick.’ You know, obviously, there’s a lot of other great coaches, "
There are several steps before Mac hears his name called at the NFL draft, not the least of which being the College Football Playoff. Alabama takes on Notre Dame on New Year’s Day. If the Crimson Tide win, they’ll face either Clemson or Ohio State on Jan. 11. And of course, the Heisman Trophy will be awarded Jan. 5.