The story’s all too common: An athlete gets too caught up in his burgeoning fame, does something stupid and falls out of grace, never to be heard from again.
While the first part of the chronology might be the case for former first-round draft pick Matt Jones, the ex-Jaguars wide receiver is doing everything he can to rewrite the epilogue.
His troubles began in July of last year when he was charged with possession of a controlled substance after police found him cutting cocaine inside an automobile in Fayetteville, Ark. The NFL suspended him for three games after he reached a plea bargain that called for him to enter a drug diversion program.
Among the conditions of the court-ordered program was submitting to random drug and alcohol screenings. Jones failed one such screening in March, a day after he drank “two beers” during a golf outing.
Jones was cut by the Jaguars and thrown into jail. It looked like he would be the next cliché to be made an example of at the Rookie Symposium, where NFL veterans tell the league’s newcomers how not to act and whom not to be like. Standing 6-feet-6 and possessing 4.4-second speed in the 40, Jones appeared destined to be the latest in a long line of freakish college talents to sign off on their own professional demise.
But Jones is hardly resigned to being a cautionary tale.
“I’m just excited about an opportunity,” he said. “Hopefully it’ll be sooner rather than later.”
Although his off-field indiscretions led to his ousting in Jacksonville, Jones maintains that any organization thinking about signing him needs not to worry about his character, especially as it relates to football.
“I definitely made a mistake and I’m definitely apologetic for that,” Jones said. “But I’m not a troublemaker, I’m not a bad locker-room guy. I’ve never been in trouble before (the cocaine arrest).
“You’re going to make mistakes in your life, and being an NFL athlete or anybody in the spotlight, it definitely gets blown up a lot more than your average person. You’ve got to know that and grow up.”
Jones also is eager to point out that had he not made his mistakes and been suspended for the season’s final three games, he could have been one of the league’s leading receivers. After falling short of expectations in his first three seasons, Jones busted out with 65 receptions for 761 yards and two touchdowns in ’08.
A quarterback during his collegiate career at Arkansas, he attributes much of his ’08 success to finally getting a grasp on the WR position.
“Quarterback is a lot more mental,” Jones said. “A receiver is more like a basketball player. … You might not touch the ball two or three times up and down the court, but you’ve still got to run up and down the court and play defense. You’ve got to run down the field and block (as a receiver). You’ve got to run your route, you’ve got to be a decoy, you’ve got to do other things.
“It takes some college receivers two or three years before they figure it out (in the NFL), so imagine a college quarterback who has never run a route in his life, trying to figure it out. It’s definitely an experience and it’s definitely something that I’ve enjoyed doing.”
Jones said his mindset after he was cut from the Jaguars was simply to continue training and wait for the call from an NFL team. In addition to performing community service work that includes participation in a football camp for underprivileged children, he has been keeping busy by working out at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
Trevor Moawad, director of the Athletic & Personal Development program, has noticed Jones’ marked improvement.
“Obviously, growing up is part of it — taking ownership of his career — but I also think his understanding and his awareness of how to be an NFL receiver is something that matured,” Moawad said. “He definitely feels like he’s got something to prove, there’s no question about it.
“I don’t think he’ll make another mistake that’ll embarrass an organization. If a GM asked me … I would give him an opportunity.”
Because the league levied a $50,000 fine for his drug-program violation, instead of subjecting him to another suspension, all he needs is for that opportunity to materialize.
Just don’t look for him to bemoan his existence in the meantime.
“I’ve been very blessed with life,” he said. “I knew that I was going to have to work hard, but that’s nothing new. All the little stuff is nothing compared to all the blessings and how good life is.
“I’m excited to get somewhere and help a team win.”