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New England Patriots Jonathan Jones' Childhood Mentors Sparks Creation Of Nonprofit

There was a point in Jonathan Jones' life that sparked the notion that giving back is always the right thing to do.

Jonathan Jones

That moment was when Jones was coming up, competing in football and track. Jones and his Carrolton High School friends qualified for a recreation national track meet. But the team didn’t have enough money to journey to the track meet.

In comes Dave Knight, a local insurance salesman whose interest in football springboarded one of the kindest gestures that Jones had ever seen when it comes to sports: gave a donation large enough for the team to travel.

Fast forward to 2023, and Jones, as a New England Patriots cornerback who went undrafted — though he went to Auburn, dwarfing his rivals and went on to become a two-time Super Bowl Champion -- and developed the Next Step Foundation, which is a full circle moment thanks to Knight inspiring Jones to give back before he eventually became the Georgia Gatorade Track Athlete of the Year.

Jones a few months ago sat down with Knight at lunch and let him know how impactful that donation was.

Jonathan Jones

“…I sat down with him and told him, ‘You don’t know what that … investment did. It allowed me to see the world. It allowed me to see the possibilities that really helped me become that NFL football player. That guy who people get to turn on their TV and see on Sundays. It was by a guy that was really just making an investment into some kids,” Jones shares.

That investment motivated Jones to start the foundation by his third year in the NFL in 2019. When the foundation was first started, Jones just ran a football camp, which is essentially boys and girls being coached by former collegiate and professional athletes, working on agility, and drills. But then it progressed into education.

Today, the foundation is “dedicated to empowering youth through education, professional development, and mentorship."

“(It) takes a village. I’m from a small town, (and) I was raised on that concept. It takes a village, and it takes everyone helping out,” Jones said. “When you give and donate, there’s a small sense of selfishness in that not just to make you feel good, but hey, I’m now invested in your journey. I get to watch you grow because of the time I spent reading a book to you and I know you. I built a relationship with you.”

Jones is entering his seventh year as an NFL player, and he has seen the need for his foundation at Foxborough where the Patriots play, along with many other NFL cities. He witnessed the need first-hand in his hometown in Georgia, so as the foundation is entering its fourth year, there is a clear process and end result for kids who get involved in the foundation.

“…We pride ourselves on mentorship -- life, practical skills -- and just really helping underprivileged kids take their next step literally wherever they are — what they may not have. It might be practical skills in life or teaching them dinner menus because a lot of kids don’t know how to sit properly at a dinner table, or funding stem labs at a school that are underfunded because I believe technology is the future, so just having these kids and giving access to these things they don’t have is kind of the end goal……,” Jones said.

There are three main areas this nonprofit operates in right now: Carrollton, Auburn and Foxborough for obvious reasons, but his goal is to expand it outside of these regions.

Still, Jones vividly remembers some of the most special moments when working with the foundation. Jones said one memory was when he was helping students at Lower Mills -- a school in Boston -- where he was helping students recreate fossils out of clay. He said the deep conversations about science and life really confirmed that these kids were smart, but they just needed some resources to push them over the top.

“I don’t think a lot of people give those kids the credit for the knowledge they have, and the deep conversations and you can tell how aware those kids were,” Jones said. "(I’m) giving the kids hope and something they can be a part of.”

Back in the day in Carrollton, a guy named Delandus O’Neal inspired Jones to go to college. O’Neal went on to compete in track and field at Mississippi State, which was a monumental deal at the time as O’Neal was one of the first people that Jones saw leave town and become educated and uber-successful.

He showed Jones that it was palpable for a Black boy growing up in the South to play a sport in college on a full scholarship, which ballooned his ambition.

Just a short time ago, Jones achieved his pilot’s license and is considering adding an aviation program to his foundation.

But for now, he will continue to run his nonprofit and train for football, while internalizing gems that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick continues to drop daily, which, Jones said, can be passed along to other kids -- and adults.

“One of the things he said is every day he wakes up to fight complacency, and I think everyone can do that in their life: to fight complacently, not be OK with where you are,” Jones said.

The full interview can be seen and heard below.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Jones

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