Detroit Lions defensive end Jason Jones stood at half-court Monday night in the gym at Southfield-Lathrup High School, during a ceremony to retire his football number — one day after playing a big role in a Detroit win.
And a circle formed around him.
A circle that told a heck of a story.
So turn around and look at the back of that circle.
Seven of his current teammates showed up to honor Jones, including Ndamukong Suh, Darryl Tapp, Eric Ebron, Joique Bell and Ziggy Ansah. As Jones started to give a speech, several Lions held up their cell phones, recording the moment and breaking into big smiles.
Now, look to at the left side of the circle. There were his parents — J.D. and Gloria Jones — who were beaming with pride. His father, by the way, is retired after working in a factory at Ford Motor for 34 years. How fitting is that? Both father and son, like so many others in this community, ended up working for the Ford family.
Now, look at the people standing to the right, at his former coaches and teachers and classmates at Lathrup, who saw something special in Jones as a teenager.
And when you look at all of it, at that entire circle of people, one thing became obvious: Jason Jones is something special.
Detroit Lions defensive end Jason Jones (center) jokes with a teammate from the Detroit Lions as he is honored during halftime of the Southfield-Lathrup High School varsity basketball game. Jones blocked a fourth quarter field goal attempt by the Minnesota Vikings to help with the Lions 16-14 win over the Vikings on Sunday.
It said so much that Jones is the first football player to have his number retired at Southfield-Lathrup. He was respected for his character, discipline and humble personality.
And it says so much about the Lions that these professional football players would come out to a high school basketball game on their day off to hang out together.
“It was an amazing feeling,” Jones said. “I didn’t expect my teammates to come out. Seeing them all here. Seeing all my old friends and family. Seeing my old coaches. It’s definitely an amazing feeling. I’m honored to have my jersey retired, but having everybody here to support me is an amazing feeling.”
After being presented with a framed jersey, Jones turned around and gave a $5,000 check to the school.
After the ceremony, Jones posed for pictures with his family, and with a group of high school cheerleaders, and with some players at Southfield-Lathrup, and with his former coaches, and with his current Lions teammates.
“Man, it was overwhelming,” Jones said. “My D Line guys. We are a band of brothers … I love those guys.”
The timing for this honor couldn’t have been more perfect.
Jones was a dominant force Sunday, getting a crucial sack and blocking a field goal in the Lions’ 16-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field. The Lions are back in first place in their division and 10-4 for only the third time in franchise history.
Lions coach Jim Caldwell praised Jones in his postgame speech, which was videotaped and released on the team’s website.
“Having first-and-goal at the 8, right?” Caldwell said, to the team in the locker room. “Sack by J.J.”
“Woo!” somebody screamed.
“Blocked kick by J.J.,” Caldwell said. “Tremendous job.”
Caldwell pointed at Jones.
“Really good plays,” Caldwell said.
Gloria Jones saw something special in her son Jason before he even reached his first birthday.
“He started walking at 9 months,” she said. “He was climbing out of the crib, so we knew he had athletic ability.”
And that athletic ability blossomed at Lathrup, where he played football and basketball.
“It’s so wonderful,” Gloria Jones said. “I can’t believe it. I just praise God that He has blessed him with the opportunity to do this, to give him the skills to play a sport.”
His parents still live in the same house in Southfield, which made this even more special.
“He was a superstar here,” J.D. Jones said. “It’s just wonderful. It’s a good feeling. This brings it all home. This is where it all started.”
His brother, Jamar Jones, flew in from Milwaukee to watch the celebration.
“It lets these kids at this school know we were just regular kids,” Jamar Jones said. “He was able to make something out of nothing. And hopefully it motivates them.”
Yes, you would expect his parents and brother to say those things.
But that’s exactly how his former coaches and teachers talk about Jason Jones.
“He was a very disciplined kid,” said Stephon Thompson, who coached Jones at Lathrup. “He loved basketball. As a matter of fact, we had to pull strings with Mom and Dad, just to play football. Once he did, he ate the field up.”
Brotherhood of Lions
Now, let’s get back to that group of Lions.
Several players have talked about a brotherhood on the Lions. How they play for one another. How they fight for one another.
“We are all together,” Tapp said. “We all support each other. J.J. is an awesome guy, an awesome player. A true person and a great person in the community.”
I have to admit, I was skeptical about the brotherhood. It sounded like a cliché. Until Monday night.
You could see and feel it from the Lions in that gymnasium, as they formed a circle around Jones.
It was something truly special that might just explain everything.
Meet Jason Jones
Who: Lions defensive end.
Vitals: Age 28, 6-feet-5, 275 pounds.
High school: Southfield Lathrup.
College: Eastern Michigan.
Drafted: In second round by Tennessee Titans in 2008.
NFL career: Tennessee Titans (2008-11), Seattle Seahawks (2012), Lions (2013-present).
Acquired: Signed with Lions before start of 2013 season. Started three games before season-ending knee injury in Week 3.
2014 stats: Has started all 14 games. Has 17 total tackles, four sacks, three passes defensed and two forced fumbles.