Mike Jones has a sleeve of tattoos up and down each arm. One is a football with “Be Legendary” inscribed near it, and another reads “Faith, Passion, Love.”
The tattoo on his right shoulder is a samurai. He decided to get it after he broke his ankle in North Carolina Central University’s game against Florida International University on Sept. 19, 2015, only 18 days after his 20th birthday.
As a sophomore in 2014, Jones earned return specialist all-American honors from BOXTOROW — a radio show with an emphasis on Black college sports — and made the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference first-team squad as a returner and defensive back. His junior season ended after just three games.
“It was really a life-changer right there,” the redshirt-senior defensive back said. “It helped me notice new things, and it helped me humble myself because that was a tough time. They had me sitting out, and I’m sitting out there watching my other teammates having to execute and make plays when I’m so used to going out there and playing for us.”
Jones came to Temple in January after he earned first-team all-MEAC distinction as a returner and cornerback in 2016. He broke the school’s record for punt return average and finished his career with 36 passes defended, which ranks ninth all-time at North Carolina Central, a Football Championship Subdivision school.
Jones graduated with a bachelor’s in sports management in December and decided to transfer to use his final year of NCAA eligibility. He considered Florida Atlantic University, Tennessee State University and the University of Toledo, where defensive backs coach Cory Robinson spent the 2016 season.
Robinson met Jones’ father at the National Combine at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in Texas during Jones’ junior year of high school. Jones and Robinson stayed in touch, talking about once or twice per week, he said. When coach Geoff Collins hired Robinson in January, Jones chose Temple.
“It started off as him being a mentor, big brother to me, and now he’s a coach and he’s still mentoring me, trying to better me into being a better man,” Jones said. “But now he’s just coaching me and changing and altering what I learned at the FCS level and getting me better at this level.”
Jones said he began returning kicks when he was young, pointing toward some of the Pop Warner players running around after practice on March 25. But Jones didn’t return kicks in college until his sophomore season in 2014. He made his favorite punt return in that year’s homecoming game against Hampton University. In the third quarter, he broke tackles to take the ball 59 yards inside the 10-yard line.
On the defensive side of the ball, Jones had eight pass breakups and four interceptions as a freshman and 13 pass breakups and five interceptions as a sophomore. He said teams started shying away from throwing to his side of the field last season, when he had three pass breakups and two interceptions.
Jones told Collins that North Carolina Central didn’t have a complex defense. Collins said the Owls will have an NFL-style defense with “a lot of corner blitzes.”
“He’s being a good teammate, pushing other guys,” Collins said. “Giving his experience because he’s played a lot of ball, to some of the younger guys … showing them what it takes to play at a high level.”
“He’s definitely a guy you can just throw in there,” redshirt-senior defensive back Artrel Foster said. “He knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s just still learning the new system just like everybody else, and the techniques, because he looks like he played a different technique at his old school. But he’s picking it up.”
Evan Easterling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @Evan_Easterling.