Braden Jones looks to put past behind him, start anew at SIU

By Gus Bode

Braden Jones is tired of standing in the shadow of his past.

Don’t ask the 6 foot 4 inch, 255 pound tight end about what he has been up to the past three years because he doesn’t want to talk about it.

Several run-ins with the law between 2001 and 2004 and a near career-ending injury stemming from a fight give the fifth year senior plenty to forget about.

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“It has been a tough couple of years for my family,” Jones said. “I’m glad to have all that behind me.”

At nearby Harrisburg High School, Jones was a multifaceted weapon playing running back, wide receiver, tight end and safety for the 2000 Illinois class 3A state champion Bulldogs.

Jones chose Northwestern University after high school where he was moved to outside linebacker and recorded 115 career tackles in two seasons with the Wildcats.

It was during his time at Northwestern that Jones faced a series of legal battles and eventually transferred out of the school. In the spring of 2004, Jones decided to enroll at SIU and has since been on the straight and narrow.

“I am back to my old self,” Jones said. “I’m back playing football and back making straight As.”

Through two semesters, the pre-med major boasts one of the highest grade point averages on the team.

Since arriving on campus, Jones has made an impact on the football program. The versatile senior has soft hands, fast legs and a hard head.

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Jones’ teammates and coaches have had nothing but positive things to say of his on-field performance.

“He’s a big strong guy and he goes and gets the ball,” starting senior quarterback Joel Sambursky said.

“Braden Jones is going to be a big contributor,” junior center Will Justice said. “He plays tough every play.”

“He’s had a great camp,” said head coach Jerry Kill. “He’ll certainly be a productive player.”

Jones’ acceptance at SIU was not a complete walk in the park though. Since he did not attend classes in the fall of 2004, it was questionable whether he would be eligible to play.

NCAA rules require student athletes to complete at least six credit hours per semester toward their degree to remain eligible.

Jones worked out with the team through the spring and summer and was eventually cleared by the NCAA to play through a medical absence waiver from the Gateway conference.

His eligibility all sewn up, Jones could start thinking about how many touchdowns he will score, or how many catches he will get, but he chooses not to.

Jones said rather than worry about statistics, he will play every down and take what is presented to him.

“I just want to come in and contribute as much as possible,” Jones said. “I’m not going to let any opportunities pass me by.”

After the 2005 season, Jones may have an opportunity to lobby for another year of eligibility, but he isn’t banking on it. Jones plans to finish his pre-med degree and try to get into medical school.

Since he hasn’t taken the exam to get into medical school yet, Jones said he will not be able to attend until 2007. Until then, he said he won’t rule out a professional football career.

“That is just something, I am going to let the cards fall as they might,” Jones said. “Football is something I love doing, and if I get the opportunity to play at the next level, that’s not an opportunity I am going to pass up.”

For now, though, Jones said he is just glad to be able to play football and is not going to pass up his chance to start over.

“With (Jones’ parents) support and the coaches’ support, I am able to get a second chance, and that is something a lot of people don’t get,” Jones said.

Reporter William Ford can be reached at [email protected]

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