Junious Smith III: Waiting on Jones Senior's football revitalization
I’m still hurt by the decision.
On Wednesday, Jones Senior agreed to shut down its football season, putting an abrupt end to the high school careers of several seniors. A team which prides itself on “Ironman Football” and never had big numbers simply couldn’t continue with 15 players.
It was difficult to interview head coach Tyler Hale and former coach (and athletic director) Greg Hampton. Even over the phone, it was easy to identify the emotion both had about losing out on this season, and it’s unimaginable the conversation both had with the players about the decision. Yes, Jones Senior’s season was not ideal and yes, the players understood they couldn’t keep playing with limited numbers. Still, it’s difficult to register when Fridays are here and the team is on the sidelines.
For now, we’re left with one question: where do we go from here?
Hale said the team will be back with a vengeance in 2020, and Jones Senior’s team has seen extreme peaks and valleys. The Trojans had consecutive 1-11 seasons in 2004 and 2005 before winning nine games or more in five of the next six, including a trip to the NCHSAA 1A state title game in 2011. Jones Senior went a combined 4-30 over the next three years — a 0-11 2013 being the lowlight — before Zach Frailey and I jumped on the Trojans’ bandwagon.
By no means were we the reasons Jones Senior’s football team had two successful seasons, winning six games each and reaching the second round of the state playoffs. We took the trip to Trenton before the 2015 season and witnessed 14 kids giving their all on the first day of summer practice. Instantly, we agreed that was the team we would root for because the heart won us over. Jones Senior never really had the numbers, but there were always athletes, good schemes and the ability to turn nothing into something.
The same heart was on display during the team’s 48-6 loss to North Duplin on Sept. 24. It was the last contest I covered of Jones Senior’s and in the midst of a brutal three-game, eight-day stretch. As I walked the sidelines, the team showed no signs of giving up. There was still electricity throughout the fourth quarter, despite the 48-0 deficit, and the Trojans were eventually able to recover a fumble on a punt return before punching it in the end zone. For them, it was all about playing a game they loved and trying to build, even during a rough season.
For now, it’s all about the waiting game. Students will continue to practice this season, even without the games. Plans are being put into motion in both the high school and middle school to encourage others to play the game and get their grades up to qualify. The recreational program is working toward getting younger people involved. It’s a process which will take years to fully come into fruition.
Meanwhile, the players, coaches and community cannot give up. Jones Senior has gone through plenty outside of sports with recent memories of Hurricane Florence, and for many sports is a great escape. This season may be over, but there will be others in the future. The football program has to continue moving forward with the mission of past success, and the community must rally around them. It’s a tough situation, but I’m confident in a future breakthrough.
We’re still rooting for Jones Senior over here.