The mentality for the New England Patriots over the last decade has been focused on “doing your job.”
For Jonathan Jones, that job has become twofold: his spot as a cornerback in the Patriots defense, and his role as the man behind the Jonathan Jones Next Step Foundation.
Jones’ journey to the NFL began when he was four years old, playing youth football in Carollton, Georgia.
“I guess the vision just started from there,” Jones told The Swing of Things. “As I got older, I guess I had the right figures; people around me to keep pushing me in the right direction, More and more opportunities started to open up once I got to college, and it started to be more realistic of a dream.”
“Once I got to New England and made the team and just continued to develop as an athlete and as a person, it was all a dream come true.”
Jones’ path to his current role in Patriots’ defense wasn’t a common one, landing with the franchise as an undrafted free agent after his career at Auburn University.
For Jones, it was about proving that he deserved his spot in head coach Bill Belichick’s system.
“It’s just work,” Jones said. “Take it day-by-day and work. I think the first thing is confidence. Once you realize it’s not the lack of ability, you just have to go in and compete. It’s a big thing. Day in and day out, just try to improve and get better and be the best player I can be.”
Now, Jones is a two-time Super Bowl champion and veteran in the Patriots’ locker room, and is able to provide advice to the new undrafted free agents looking to earn spots on the team in 2020.
“Just show up every day ready to work, and to outwork anyone,” Jones said. “Try to learn as much as you can as quickly as you can, and just develop. Progress is always key, and every day find something you want to get better at, stick to that and continue to improve.”
That “sponge” mentality, as Jones described it, helped him become a playmaker on the field, and a leader off of it.
“I’ve been fortunate to be a part of some great locker rooms,” Jones said. “Guys come in, maybe guys who are in there for just a week, but you learn something from everyone if you just take in that opportunity. Everyone in that building at any given point is at a different point in their career, and you can always learn a lesson from everyone.”
“You can learn something from them and try to take it along with you along your journey.”
So, what happens when those in-person connections get impacted by a global pandemic, like COVID-19? Players and coaches are forced to meet new teammates and learn new playbooks in virtual meetings, rather than in physical rooms at the team facilities.
For Jones, it forced him to improvise in his mission to improve as a player, building a gym at his home to continue to put in work before the season.
“Not being able to participate in the offseason workouts right now, no one is, so you just try to take advantage of the opportunity you have,” Jones said. “Wherever guys are, try to get as much work in as they can, and then obviously we just started the virtual meetings, so just trying to get in and getting through the playbook and getting that aspect of it.”
The pandemic also forced Jones to improvise with his non-profit organization, the Next Step Foundation.
“It was important to me,” Jones said. “Just having the opportunity to set up my foundation and give back to kids, not just through gifts or that way, but just that leadership and that mentorship.”
“I feel one of the most key parts of your development is having someone to look up to,” Jones continued. “Being able to reach out and help someone take their next step is beyond just football. Everyone’s not gonna be an athlete, but everyone has their next step in life. As a youth, your next step is the most critical. So, just trying to intersect guys and young ladies at that point in their lives and being a positive influence.”
Jones’ foundation has provided him with a lot of highlights, whether through the organization’s inaugural football camp in 2019, or his various speaking engagements since its creation. But, no single event can match the feeling Jones gets from his interactions with those he mentors.
“For me personally, you don’t realize how much the youth are watching you,” Jones said. “Every move, every aspect. You show up to an event, and you might see a kid later, and he can tell you everything you had on that day, from your socks, [Chuck Taylor’s] and your shoestrings. Just the attention of detail, and the kids and the youth do pay attention to us, it’s been big.”
And, just like with his development as a football player, Jones didn’t let the pandemic get in the way of progress. His foundation will be feeding 800 families with children who have been financially impacted by COVID-19, with donations taking place at his hometown elementary school in Carrollton, Georgia on May 23 and May 30.
“You kind of shift focus,” Jones said when describing how the foundation adapted during the pandemic. “There’s so many families in need of meals and so many different, various things. Just being able to donate, whether it be to front line workers in healthcare, or the youth giveaway that we’re doing these next upcoming weekends. It’s just a big opportunity to do my part.”
“This is something we’re gonna have to get through as a community and as a country, so just helping do my part and helping everyone take that next step.”
As for the next step in Jones’ career, he has two forms of development he’s working on. First and foremost, he’s a cornerback for the Patriots, looking to prove he’s worth the three-year contract extension he signed with the team in 2019.
“Specifically for me, just to continue to be a good teammate, continue to develop as a leader and as a guy on the team that people can look up to, and continue to make plays and impact the game,” Jones said. “That’s what we’re there for, to do our job, and I just want to continue to do mine at a high level.”
But, as the man behind the Next Step Foundation, Jones wants to leave a lasting legacy on those he interacts with, and be remembered like those he looked up to when he was a kid.
“Creating something that, year after year, guys can link up and share their experiences,” Jones said. “Touch as many kids as we can, and hopefully one day, there’s a guy playing in the NFL or a doctor or whatever their future aspirations may be, and they can say, ‘Hey, Jonathan Jones’ foundation is my step in the right direction.'”