Around this time a calendar year ago, Javancy Jones was one of more than 300 college players who found themselves competing for an NFL roster spot. The former Jackson State linebacker was in an NFL camp with the Arizona Cardinals until he came to realization that football would only be fleeting after before forced to choose the game and long-term quality of life.
Jones these days is a coach and teacher at Noxubee County High School in his native Macon, Mississippi, instructing young people in sports and the game of life.
I caught up with Jones to reflect on his decision to step away from football and how he’s now trying to make an impact off the field.
What do you remember about being part of the NFL Draft process?
It was exciting. It was a major feeling, because everybody in America growing up playing football dreams of getting a chance to play in the NFL. Going through that process, going to the East-West Shrine Game and having my name out there.
How disappointed were you not being drafted?
I actually sat there after it got to the second round and isolated myself from everybody. I put in so much work over the years. I was just looking at the body of work I put in. It didn’t matter at what number I got drafted. I just knew somewhere in my head that I was going to get drafted from my stats to my pro day to the East-West Shrine Game. When I didn’t get drafted, football basically told me I wasn’t good enough right then. I knew I had to prove them wrong.
What was the Arizona Cardinals experience like?
They (Arizona) offered me a contract. They wanted me to go through mini-camp. While I was up there, I ended up tweaking my knee. I found out I was at the last stage of arthritis. I remember when coach Larry Foote told me to go home and pray about it. He told me, “If you want to stay here, leave your stuff at the hotel. But if you want to go home, bring your stuff and we will figure things out from there.”
When I got up that morning and prayed about it, I was like, ‘I did what I wanted to see.’ All I wanted to see was if I could play with the big boys. At the rookie mini-camp, I was playing with ’em. I went from second-string to up there with the first team. In my head, I was satisfied that I was able to play with them.
After Arizona, you had an opportunity with the Tennessee Titans. What happened there?
Once I left Arizona, I made the decision in my head that I was done playing football, because I know throughout the whole process I was always hurt. I knew I had arthritis in my feet and hands. With my knees, it got serious. I knew I had a health issue and had to think about my little girl and I didn’t want to be in a wheelchair going through her childhood. Even throughout last season, I was getting calls from teams asking me to come back and play or come to training camp. But, I already had my made up about what I wanted to do.
So it was the arthritis that factored into you giving up football?
“I had to start thinking about my health. In the NFL, you have to be at your best every day, because you never know when you might get cut. It’s a business now. They don’t want to hear anything about you being hurt, because you’re getting paid to do what they’re asking you to do. I knew that my body wasn’t going to allow me to do that every day.”
How difficult of a decision was it to walk away from the game?
It really wasn’t that hard because it was never my dream to go to the NFL. I’ve always been a so-called geek. I knew I was going to college on my educational background, not because of football. I wasn’t expecting to go to college to play football. My first year at Jackson State, the boys used to talk about going to the NFL. I would tell them I’m not trying to go to the NFL. I was going to use football and not let football use me. I was just trying to get a degree out of the deal. I ended up getting two degrees out of the deal.
It seems like you had another plan all along, right?
The whole time, I knew what I wanted to do in life, which was to be a coach and teacher.
What makes being a teacher and coach so fulfilling?
I love it. I touch so many lives. (With) me being in the classroom, I get to touch more than just football players. Being able to give them some of my knowledge is a blessing to me. Everybody can’t be a coach or a teacher. I’m healthy. I’m not hurt like I used to be. I get to be in my daughter’s life more. It’s plus.
Earlier you spoke about health being a big reason you gave up football. How did you deal with playing in pain?
I was the heart and soul of my team. I didn’t let my injuries stop me from playing. I only missed one game during my career at Jackson State. Sometimes the trainers would tell me,’Javancy, you need to sit out this game or sit out this practice.’ At practice, I went 100 mph. In the game, I went 110 mph. I just had the mindset to my teammates that I had to be the Superman. I knew we couldn’t take too many days off because we were pursing a championship.
Were you ever tempted to sit out a game or practice because the injuries were too much to bear?
There were plenty of mornings I woke up and we had workouts at 5 a.m. Knowing that I had arthritis in my feet, I had to wake up at 3:30 to soak my feet for just an hour so I could just be able to walk. It was hard.
How did you get through it?
With God. That’s the only person I could turn to in that situation. I had so much going on. My mother ended up getting sick and then paralyzed from the neck down. I actually had to turn to God, because that’s the only route I had. I was stuck in the middle of trying to be a successful football player and also trying to be a successful student. I took being a student-athlete seriously.
You think the situation with your mother forced you to mature quicker?
I had to take two weeks away from the team just to get my mind ready for that. Everything had to be for her. They told me to get a why. My why was her. When my days were bad, I looked at her and thought about her.
Who did you seek counsel from during that time to cope?
“Football. I knew that football couldn’t talk back to me, but being out there with my teammates and playing the game that you love, it was my way of releasing some negative energy. Playing the game put me in a happy place.”
You carry this positive attitude despite some of the challenges you’ve encountered in personally and in football. Where does that resolve come from?
Where I’m from, I’ve seen so many different things happen. When I was in the seventh grade, I developed psoriasis and was told I would never play football again. I’ve been through my share of adversity.
You miss playing football?
When I see my guys out there making plays, I get excited. I’m playing through them now. Instead of being out there physically, I’m out there mentally.
If you were given a clean bill of health right now, would you continue to play football or still do what you’re doing now?
I’ll probably stick with what I’m doing now. I don’t go to work. I go to an environment where I’m surrounded by people who love me. This whole year, I never woke up with a frown on my face. I always woke up smiling.