Growing up the son of retired Wakulla coaching legend J.D. Jones, Tanner Jones had one perspective as a War Eagles football player.
But since his playing career ended following four years as quarterback at Troy University, and as he’s taken hold of a Taylor County football program that had seen better days, Jones has found another viewpoint.
“I understood what he did growing up, the hours he spent, but now I’ll call him after practice and say, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I doing? How did you do it for so long?’” Jones said. “And he’ll just laugh and go, ‘It’ll be alright. Tomorrow is a better day.’”
This year has been a better year for Jones and Taylor County, now 6-5 as it heads into Friday night’s home Region 1-3A final against top-ranked Trinity Christian (11-0).
Jones is in his second year with the Bulldogs as athletic director and head football coach following two years doing the same at Taylor County Middle School. Before Taylor County, he was an assistant coach at Wakulla for junior varsity softball.
When he became a head football coach, he called himself cocky. He says he and his staff still are, but wisdom has seemed in to help the Bulldogs capture their first district title in four years.
“You get better every time you call a play as a coordinator,” Jones said. “As a coach, every practice you get better. I feel like I’ve started to learn the kids more. I’ve learned what to do and what not to do as a coach.”
Part of that knowledge has been passed from father to son.
“He’s a critic,” Jones said. “He’ll say, ‘After a loss, I don’t critique you as much. But after a win I can tell you whatever I want. Now it’s time to get on you.’ It’s not just me. After the games, he’ll get with my defensive coordinator and ask him why he does stuff he does. He’ll get with me, he’ll get with my o-line coach. He’s that guy in the stands that you hear yelling and you’re glad you never have to talk to, except for me I’ve got to talk to him.”
Early on in the year, Taylor County was 1-3. The Bulldogs were 2-4 after a 35-12 loss at defending 1A state champion Port St. Joe, but that game was the season’s turning point.
“We put up right at 500 yards of offense against a really good team,” Jones said. “The defense in the second half didn’t give up. As a team, we got better that night.”
The Bulldogs won a district title by beating Pensacola Catholic, 35-26, and Florida High, 32-24, blocking a Seminoles’ game-winning field goal attempt at game’s end and returning it for a touchdown.
The lesson’s learned in those games popped up in last week’s 42-28 win over Providence, when Taylor County trailed at halftime 21-14 and couldn’t stop the run.
However, the defense adjusted to hold the Stallions’ run in check for the rest of the game and the offense broke free.
And now comes the Bulldogs’ biggest test yet, one in which no one expects victory.
“This is like that Godby team that went and won a state championship three years ago, but our kids believe they can win,” Jones said. “They know they’re in the second round. They’ve won their district. They’re like the coaching staff, we’re cocky. We’re going to go in every game thinking we can win until you prove us otherwise.”