Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones catches a punt during training… (Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd…)
In an instant, Ravens return specialist Jacoby Jones lost his grip on the football and his job security.
During the AFC divisional playoff game between the Houston Texans and the Ravens in January, things went awry for Jones in what became his final game with the Texans.
Jones became a relative pariah in Houston after he muffed a first-quarter punt that led to a Ravens touchdown. He later fumbled another punt in that game, which ended in a Texans loss.
Fans took their frustrations with Jones to message boards and Twitter, demanding the Texans get rid of him. They got their wish in May, when the Texans cut Jones after trade rumors surrounded him during the NFL draft.
"I'm human, and it hurt me a lot," Jones said. "People make mistakes. People that dwell on the past never succeed in life. The people who dwell on that one game, that's the people who play fantasy football or never played the game.
"It made me a better person. It was just another obstacle in my life that I've had to overcome, and I did. I don't have a fumbling problem, but all people talk about is that one game. It's in the past. I'm black and purple now."
It was hardly a difficult choice for Jones when a fresh start in Baltimore was offered to him. The change of scenery is an ironic twist considering his bad game against Baltimore essentially ended his time with the Texans after five years with the team that drafted him in the third round.
Throughout Jones' career and life he has experienced the consequences of mistakes and he said he has learned from each of them. With each step he has relied on those closest to him to keep him grounded, motivated and encouraged as he attempts to establish himself with the Ravens.
"It's really a good fit," said Emily London-Jones, his mother. "Change has always been good for Jacoby, for all of the challenges he has in life."
'I didn't have a father growing up'
Whenever Jones crouched down in his sprinter's stance during his youth track meets, he always knew he was never alone in his pursuit of the finish line.
London-Jones ran alongside him next to the track chasing and cheering him on.
"As soon as they shot the gun, she would take off and get as close as possible to Jacoby," said Allen Woods, Jones' former track coach and assistant principal at Murray Abrahamson High School in New Orleans. "She would run next to him, screaming, 'That's my baby! Go, Jacoby go!' She was pretty quick, so she used to stay up there with him."
It's been just Jones and his mother ever since she divorced his father when Jacoby was 18 months old.
A director of financial aid at Xavier University of Louisiana, London-Jones demanded that Jones get good grades or he wouldn't be allowed to play sports.
She nurtured him with her homemade Cajun cooking, whipping up heaping portions of seafood gumbo, boiled crawfish, crawfish etouffee, crawfish pie, jambalaya, turkey necks and red beans and rice.
"I truly am proud," London-Jones said. "It's a blessing for him to be where he is today. After his father and I divorced, I was always his mom and his dad."
London-Jones' reassuring presence built a strong bond for her son's formative years in Louisiana, his emergence from obscurity at tiny Lane College, to being drafted by the Texans in 2007.
"I didn't have a father growing up, I don't even know what he looks like," Jones said. "It was just me and my mom the whole time. She's my best friend, my mother, my father, my sister, all of the above. She's there for me every day."
At her home in New Orleans, London-Jones has a curio cabinet filled with Jacoby's three AFC special teams player of the week awards and his touchdown footballs. Jones used to hand-deliver them, jumping into his mother's arms in the stands whenever he scored with the Texans.
"I'm a proud mama," London-Jones said. "Mama Jones will be at every one of Jacoby's games this season."
Strong and fast at a sculpted 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Jones is much larger than most return specialists.
It's hard to fathom that Jones was only 5-7, 160 pounds when he graduated from high school.
"I was a late bloomer," said Jones, who spent his freshman year at Southeastern University running hurdles. "I had no scholarships out of high school. I was always the guy who was overlooked."
That changed quickly when Jones walked on at Lane, a small Methodist school in Jackson, Tenn., that competes at the NCAA Division II level.
After a seven-hour drive to campus with his mother, Jones tried out for the football team. During that audition, London-Jones said her son faked out a starting cornerback so badly that the defensive back lost his lunch.
"He regurgitated right there on the field," London-Jones said. "Afterward, the coach asked the cornerback: 'Can we use this guy?' He said, 'Hell, yeah.' I had never heard of Jackson before, but that's where Jacoby's athletic ability blossomed."
Jones experienced a major growth spurt after his freshman year, utilizing the weight room to fill out his frame.