When James Jones IV would come home and talk football with his dad, the conversations went deep.
This was the advantage of having a college coach in the home, and something in which the new Air Force starting free safety took full advantage.
“He’s always liked to talk about ball,” said James Jones III, the defensive coordinator, defensive line coach and associate head coach at Northern Colorado. “When he would ask questions, I would always talk with him about things. … I always tried to give him those tools and tools to understand what really wins – it’s not usually the physical attributes, it’s more the mental part of the game that sets you apart.”
The elder Jones, whose career has taken him to 11 schools and two NFL internships since 1997, also imparted the need to “grind and chip away” to put yourself in position to be successful. And that resiliency has opened a door to his son.
Jones, a sophomore, had battled junior Garrett Kauppila for the opening at free safety through spring and fall practice. Kauppila won the spot, then had a hot start to the season with 15 tackles in three games with a forced fumble and a blocked punt against San Diego State.
Of Air Force’s many new starters, it was Kauppila who looked most comfortable in his new role.
But injury struck as Kauppila broke his collarbone on the blocked punt and is sidelined for the rest of the season.
Enter Jones, a sophomore who brings a unique cerebral aspect because of those conversations at home.
“He’s obviously been around football,” coach Troy Calhoun said. “He’s highly, highly interested in football and he spends a lot of time watching film on his own. No doubt, he’s been around the game and he’s moved around a good bit, too.
“It’s just hard to beat guys who have been around the sport.”
The moving around for Jones stopped when his father – whose stops included Cornell and Dartmouth in the Ivy League and a Power Five spot at Kansas State – came to Northern Colorado as the special teams coordinator in 2011.
He remained in that spot for the two years as the family settled in a home in Thornton and James IV enrolled at Mullen. When James III then took a job coaching the defensive line at San Jose State in 2013 (a job he held for three seasons), the family stayed behind.
“I wanted his life to be as normal as possible in his high school career,” Jones’ father said.
It was in this time that James IV switched to the side of the ball his father has long coached, so counsel had to be offered from afar.
“I actually played offense until my junior year of high school,” Jones said. “I haven’t been playing defense long.”
When Air Force came through with an offer for the three-star recruit who was the Colorado state champion in the long jump, the elder Jones did his best to advise but not direct.
“I wanted to make sure that it was his decision,” said Jones III, who played on the defensive line at Texas Southern. “I tried to give him the pros and the cons, but I knew he would be able to see it through if it was something that he really wanted to do.”
Jones, who is 6-foot-2, 171 pounds, assisted on three tackles in his first start at New Mexico. He figures to be in the lineup this week at Navy.
“He’s always been sharp-minded and he’s worked his butt off,” senior defensive end Santo Coppola said. “So, I’m glad to see him out there. I’m confident in him and I think he’s going to be a great player – he is a great player.”
The Jones family didn’t want the move to come because of an injury, but there’s certainly a special sense of pride for a college football coach to see his son move up into a featured role. And, making it more special, the father was able to see it as Northern Colorado played an early home game Sept. 23 that allowed him to watch the rainy game against the Aztecs when Jones came in as a replacement.
“For him to get a chance to live his dream of playing FBS football and get a great education at one of the elite institutions in the nation, that just makes me feel great,” Jones III said. “I’m enjoying seeing him live his dreams out.”