Larry Turner can't help but get a little misty-eyed on Sunday afternoons during football season these days.
The former Carrollton Parks and Recreation Department track and field head coach takes pride in watching all of his former athletes succeed in whichever career path they choose, but one individual in particular especially holds a special place in his heart.
Because when Jonathan Jones and the New England Patriots pop on the screen, Turner is glued to the tube.
"Just tears come to my eyes when I see him on the field. I know a grown man shouldn't be crying, but we're just so proud of him, man," Turner said. "It's just a proud moment. It's a real, real proud moment."
Jones, a 2012 Carrollton High School graduate and former multi-sport Trojan star, recently wrapped up his second season in the NFL with the Patriots, marking a second trip to the Super Bowl in as many years for a guy who got it all started with the Roopville Hornets 20 years ago on the recreation regimen.
After serving as a special teams staple and reserve cornerback on the Patriots' Super Bowl championship squad last year during his rookie season, Jones emerged into an even more prominent role in 2017.
Playing in all 16 regular-season games with four starts, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound explosive talent recorded 44 tackles on defense, including 39 solo stops.
Becoming more integrated into the defense, on top of his special teams duties, Jones enjoyed two individual milestones this winter by recording his first professional interception and sack.
On the final play of the Patriots' 21-13 win over the L.A. Chargers on Oct. 29, Jones picked off quarterback Philip Rivers in the end zone to seal the deal. Roughly a month later on Nov. 26, Jones delivered the biggest defensive performance of his young career in a 35-17 win over the Miami Dolphins, registering a team-high nine tackles, highlighted by a fourth-quarter sack of Matt Moore for a 15-yard loss.
Unfortunately, Jones had his postseason cut short after suffering an ankle injury in the victory over Tennessee in the Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs on Jan. 13. Jones was placed on injured reserve (IR) on Jan. 17, effectively ending his season.
New England is currently gearing up for Super Bowl LII against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, Feb. 4, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m.
Even though it proved to be a tough pill to swallow for a guy who never wants to be on the sideline, the second-year pro remains in good spirits, according to his cousin and former coach, Justin Jones.
The elder Jones, also a former Trojan star and now the defensive coordinator and head track and field coach at Clarke Central High School in Athens, served as a mentor to his younger cousin growing up and helped him blossom into a state champion hurdler on the track and lockdown corner on the gridiron.
Speaking with Jonathan following the Tennessee game, Justin Jones said while he was obviously disappointed in not being able to play in the AFC Championship game against Jacksonville and the upcoming Super Bowl, he's handling it the right way.
"He's supportive of the team. He's the ultimate competitor, so he wants to be out there. He definitely wants to step on the field on Sunday to play in the Super Bowl, so that was a disappointment. But he's very, very happy for the team and his teammates and the organization," noted Justin Jones, a 2003 CHS graduate.
Being a defensive-oriented guy himself who played collegiate football at Presbyterian College in South Carolina, Justin Jones has enjoyed watching his cousin continue to develop his game at the highest level following an All-SEC career at Auburn.
"He was right there in the thick of things this year. He played heavily in a lot of rotations, especially teams that didn't use tight ends as much. With his speed and athleticism, they like to use him on those inside receivers," Justin Jones said. "Getting his first career interception, his first career sack, hopefully he can build on it going forward."
At every level between both of his marquee sports — football and track and field — Jonathan Jones has been a winner.
From a multi-event track and field star dating back to his days at the CPRD under Turner to his high school days under CHS head coach Craig Musselwhite and Justin Jones to his gridiron success with the Trojans under former head coach Rayvan Teague to his time at Auburn where he played in a national championship game, his talents have always translated to the next level.
So when he signed a three-year free-agent deal with New England, it proved to be the perfect destination coming out of college.
"Him surrounding himself with the right people at the right time and being able to sign with the Patriots, it fits his personality. He's a winner and he likes to be around winners," Justin Jones said.
Having followed Jonathan on his journey at every level of his career, Justin Jones certainly doesn't miss an opportunity to watch him work on the professional stage. He and some family members most recently attended a game in Foxborough on Dec. 24 in a win over Buffalo.
"He has his routine during the week, but he always takes time out for us and his friends and family whenever we're able to come up. It's great to see the inner-workings of an NFL player and then being able to see it from the New England standpoint. They're pretty much a 9-to-5 type of organization. They get there early in the morning and they stay until the evening time. Everybody is serious, but they care a lot about each other and what they're doing," Justin Jones said.
Of course, nothing will top last year's festivities in being able to travel to Houston's NRG Stadium for Super Bowl LI against the hometown Atlanta Falcons.
"It was amazing. It was Patriots fans, Falcons fans. That's what made it even more special because us being from Carrollton and Georgia and having ties with the Falcons, as well. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us. They rolled out the red carpet for both teams and we were able to experience a little bit of that," Justin Jones recalled. "When the Patriots pulled out that amazing victory, we got to celebrate with the team, which is something that was unexpected on our part. Jonathan brought us along for the ride and we were really, really appreciative of it. We really had a great time out there."
Along with friends and family, Carrollton High School and the Carrollton community are also rallying around Jones as he continues to fulfill a lifelong dream.
CHS Principal David Brooks has witnessed the rise of a young Trojan star to a Super Bowl champion, and he said Jones continues to make his hometown proud.
"Obviously, you have great athletes who come through your program. But you also know what it takes to make it at that level and not very many do it. For him to make it, which is no surprise to us because of his athletic ability and his work ethic and his character and those intangibles that go along with being that successful, to see him not only make it to that level, but play in the Super Bowl two years in a row, it was amazing," Brooks said. "We're very proud of him as a school, as a former Trojan. The city is very proud of him and the accomplishments he has had. It's just really neat to watch and see it all unfold. We're just so happy for him and his family. It's just unbelievable."
As Turner reflects on his time coaching Jones dating back to his days in elementary school on the recreation circuit, he said even back then there was a sense that he could become something special.
"It's not surprising where he is because he was just so determined to do all that," Turner said. "At 8 years old when he first came out to run track, he was so determined to make himself as good as the crowd or better than the crowd.
"Even right now when he's hurt, I guarantee you he's still giving 110 percent because he just don't accept that part of his life. He's always got to be one of the best or the best."
For friends and family, it's almost surreal to see Jonathan Jones living out those childhood dreams he always said he'd achieve — even if no one believed him at the time.
Because now, all those doubters have become true-blue believers.
"It's funny because he tells us he's going to do things and when he was younger we would always laugh at him. But now when he says what he's going to do with his athletic career, we just sit back and watch," Justin Jones said. "A lot of the things that he said he was going to do, he's accomplished them. An All-SEC performer in college, all-state in high school for not just football, but also track. And then being undrafted, that didn't seem to faze him very much. Now being with the New England Patriots, he just continues to not only amaze our family, but a lot of people. He just continues to work. So we don't doubt him anymore. If he says he's going to do it, we just sit back and watch."
Jonathan Jones was not available for comment due to the Patriots' policy of not permitting media interviews for players on injured reserve during the week of the Super Bowl.