A high school football player's senior year is a special and memorable time. The whole season is a year full of lasts. Last home games, last opportunities to play with some of your best friends, and last late night bus rides after a road victory.
Calera High School's Jayson Jones' final season with the Eagles is here and there is no one more excited than him to be back out on the field. The consensus 4-star defensive tackle suffered an ACL injury in the offseason that reminded him how for many this is the last time they will ever strap on a helmet, lace up the cleats, and play a game that they have fallen in love with from an early age.
It left him down, but he vows his spirit was not broken.
"It was a minor setback for me," Jones said. "I was not going to let it stop me."
When Jones stepped onto the field for the first game of 2019 against the Pelham Panthers, there was one emotion that filled his body, joy.
"I was so happy," the Alabama commitment said. "I kept thinking to myself, 'I can play football again!' I was able to enjoy the game again. It was a cool moment and it was kind of a breakout game for me. I could not stop grinning."
On that opening night, Jones contriubted seven tackles, four tackles for loss, a sack, and a fumble recovery to the Eagles 27-20 victory.
Jones checks in with a monster frame of 6-foot-6 and 350 pounds. He is one of the four defensive line commitments for the Crimson Tide in the Class of 2020, and has been since July of 2018.
He's ranked by 247Sports as the eighth best prospect in the state.
The Calera native recalls the time where he received the offer from the Crimson Tide and that it was one of the best moments of his life, but the decision to attend the Capstone was not an easy one.
"At first, I was not going to go to Alabama," Jones said. "I was going to commit to Georgia until the final week leading up to my decision."
Georgia was the first SEC school to offer Jones, but the Crimson Tide quickly swooped in with its own offer a week later. Ultimately, he says it was a matter of what the school could do for him rather than what he can do for them.
"It was a business decision," Jones said. "It came down to what school is going to prepare you the best and help you get to the NFL."
Jones plays nose tackle for the Eagles now, but once he arrives in Tuscaloosa, he aims to make the move to defensive end.
"I have a lot to still work on, but you are not stopping my swim move and long stick," Jones said. "Being as big as I am and coming back from injury, my feet are still very quick."
Jones has been compared to current Crimson Tide defensive end Raekwon Davis, but the 17-year old wants to make a name for himself.
"I do not like comparing myself to others," Jones said. "I do not think I am going to be this or that. I want to be myself. I want to be the next Jayson Jones. You want to become that player that is unique and to where no else can be you. You have to find that one thing that separates you from everyone else."
Another selling point for his choice to join the Crimson Tide was the younger players that Nick Saban and his staff like to give meaningful opportunities to.
"I hate when people say freshman do not play at Alabama," Jones said. "If you look at the Duke game, three freshman started in the middle of the defense and Jordan Battle got an interception. It is going to be hard to start, but no position is guaranteed. Wherever you go, you have to fight for a job."
Jones will be majoring in computer science at Alabama and if football does not work out as a career for him. He already has a plan B and it involves his favorite hobby, video games.
"I have always been a nerdy kid," Jones said. "I do some coding to different apps and video games in my spare time at home. I want to create something that will revolutize the whole gaming community."
Despite his passion for coding and developing video games, Jones says that he does not play any of them during the season because he wants to be locked at all times.
"Before a game, I want dead silence," Jones said. "I do not want anyone talking to me. I am focused at what is at hand. I know that is different than most guys. I do not want any distractions."
Jones' head coach, Trey Simpson, was promoted to that position in the summer after seasons of being the Eagles' defensive coordinator, and he has had a front row seat to his star player's development.
"Jayson has been in our program for four years now and he does everything the right way," Simpson said. "He is a hard worker and a grinder. Him and the rest of our seniors make up a high character group that can help turn the culture around here to get it to where it needs to be."
Simpson says there has been many moments from Jones that has wowed him, but two that stick out was his performances in the first two rounds of the playoffs in 2017, Jones' sophomore year.
"Against Jackson and Beauregard, late in the 4th quarter of both games, he had a run of plays where he blew up their offenses consistently," Simpson said. "We saw his potential pretty early on in his freshman year too. There we times when on offense we could not run any plays because he was so disruptive."
In previous seasons Jones would split time on the offensive line and defensive line, but in 2019, he is strictly playing defense and he would not have it any other way.
"I found my passion for football when I was playing pee wee ball and I was on the defensive line and my coaches told me to just run around and hit the guy with the ball," Jones said. "I love it because you get to hit people. Football, boxing, and MMA are the only sports where you get to break someone's bones and not get in trouble for it. So why not enforce that?"