CENTENNIAL – To meet Sam Jones is to like him.
The latest NFL prospect from the Denver-area, Jones has quarterback good looks but offensive guard modesty who will put the hood part of his hoodie to use. Indoors.
He will say he first went to college for the primary purpose of playing football, but he needed just 3 ½ years to complete his degree in criminal justice.
His parents, a former rancher from New Mexico and an educator in the Douglas County and Cherry Creek school districts, didn’t push him to get a job as a kid, but he got one, anyway, hauling furniture and appliances for a moving company.
“You don’t have to think very much,’’ Jones said, “but it’s difficult.’’
Also as a youth growing up in Highlands Ranch and attending ThunderRidge High School, Jones didn’t just dream of throwing the key block on the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl. He used to regularly watch the monotonous exercise that is NFL Combine. And liking it.
“It’s crazy watching it when you’re a kid, seeing those guys got through it and then before you know it, you get an invite and it’s my time now, I guess,’’ he said. “It’s kind of crazy.’’
The NFL combine will be held Tuesday through Monday, March 4, in Indianapolis. Jones, a three-year starting offensive lineman (mostly as a left guard) at Arizona State, has been assigned the number OL18 for his workout shirts.
Other combine invitees with Colorado ties are Falcon High School running back Kalen Ballage -- Jones’ teammate at Arizona State; Mullen and Alabama punter John Kimball “JK” Scott; Colorado Springs’ Classical Academy and Auburn kicker Daniel Carlson; Colorado State receiver Michael Gallup and Colorado cornerback Isaiah Oliver.
Jones was highly recruited out of high school by most of the Pac-12 schools before he settled on Arizona State.
His athleticism evident, his body fresh and his education completed, Jones bypassed his final year of football eligibility to declare for the NFL Draft, where he is projected to be selected anywhere between the third and sixth rounds.
“Sam probably could have stayed another year but he made the right decision in leaving,’’ Matt McChesney, a former NFL defensive and offensive lineman who has been Jones’ longtime performance coach, said from the office of his Six Zero Strength and Fitness facility. “He’s healthy. The scouts know what they see. If Quenton Nelson is No. 1 as a finisher, Sam Jones is a close No. 2. You watch his tape, I mean he’s putting people on the ground.’’
Nelson is a 6-foot-5, 330-pound Notre Dame product who is considered one of the best NFL guard prospects in years, never mind in this year’s draft. Jones isn’t rated quite that high, in part because most of the scouting and draft websites have him weighed incorrectly.
He is not 6-5, 290. He is 6-5 and will come in somewhere around 300 and 305 pounds at the NFL Combine.
“I’ve heard a lot about my weight as a weakness,’’ Jones said. “I don’t know how I got listed at 290 to be honest with you. (Arizona State coaches) wanted me to play at 295 and that’s what I played at, but I walk around at 300. Hopefully, if I make a team this year, I’ll be at 305, 310.’’
He’ll make an NFL team. His strength is his athleticism. He played both baseball and basketball in his youth and as guards go, he can move, bend and get his feet in position for proper angles. He can both pound the defensive tackle at the point of attack and get out to the second level and seal off the linebacker.
“I hate to say this but in New England’s trap system, I think if they’re looking to get a real athletic player to replace Shaq Mason at right guard (in 2019) then they have to look at Sam at some point because he’s so damn athletic,’’ McChesney said. “I mean he can get out of his stance and get to full speed by step two.’’
Besides his football-specific training business, McChesney also has sports announcing gigs. He was serving as a TV commentator for a ThunderRidge-Cherry Creek high school game in 2013 when he noticed the Grizzlies’ terrific left tackle.
McChesney has been working with Jones ever since. Having also worked with Baltimore Ravens’ starting center Ryan Jensen, Atlanta left guard Ben Garland, New York Jets’ defensive tackle Michael Pennel and offensive linemen Ryan Harris, Stephane Nembot and Will Pericak, among others, what does McChesney see in Jones that makes him special?
“Physicality. And I never have to ask him if he wants to work,’’ McChesney said. “Very rarely do I have to say, ‘Hey, where are you today?’ If ever. My coach in college, and now the D-line coach for the Eagles, Chris Wilson, he used to always say I’d rather say ‘whoa’ than ‘sick ‘em.’ I’d rather walk up and tell you to calm down then say, ‘Bro, can you get excited about being here?’’’
Mom and dad get the credit for instilling a strong work ethic in their two sons, Zach and Sam. Susan was a teacher for 20-plus years and is now a school bus administrator. Forrest works in the oil and gas industry.
Their oldest son Zach played two years of football at New Mexico State before back fusion surgery ended his playing days.
Sam plays on. He’ll go through the drills at the NFL Combine, then participate in Arizona State’s Pro Day on March 16. Then the plan is to stay tuned up with McChesney while waiting for the NFL Draft that will be held April 26, 27 and 28.
Jones grew up rooting for the Broncos, but he is about to complete the transition from football fan to football as a way of life. At this point, there is no preference as to which team selects him in the draft.
“I just want an opportunity,’’ Jones said. “I don’t care where it is. I want to play football again.’’