In fall of 2007, the Carrollton (Ga.) varsity football team featured a talented and determined tight end and defensive end named Josh Harris. Three levels down, the Carrollton freshman team was helmed by an unstoppable dual-threat quarterback named Jonathan Jones.
Nine years later, the two former Trojans will suit up across from each other at the ultimate game for the sport. Harris will serve as the Atlanta Falcons’ long snapper and an emergency reserve offensive lineman, while Jones has emerged as a critical special teams contributor for the New England Patriots. Together, they may be the first duo of players from a single high school to compete against each other in a Super Bowl.
“There was a lot of similarities between them,” Carrollton principal David Brooks, who served as athletic director when both players were at the school, told USA TODAY Sports. “They were both hard workers, leaders in the hallway, strong students. Josh was a three-sport athlete in football, wrestling and baseball. That’s demanding to do that, and we were competitive in all three sports. Jonathan was an outstanding football player and state champion hurdler and relay runner. He did summer track as well and went to the national meets every summer.
“They’re both just good examples in how doing things the right way, working hard and making good decisions, how that can pay off for you.”
The path both players took to football’s promised land fell along eerily similar lines. After failing to land a Division I football scholarship, Harris walked on at Auburn, eventually cementing his place as the team’s long snapper. Before his senior season, Jones joined the program, where he eventually emerged as a standout cornerback. Both players stayed at Auburn throughout their eligibility, graduated, and then latched on with their NFL teams as undrafted free agents. They’ve since solidified their roles for the Falcons and Patriots, respectively, finding a niche with skills that both teams needed and valued.
While the family support both players received has clearly been a factor in their success, their head football coach at Carrollton, Rayvan Teague, insists that the broader Carrollton community and emphasis it places on football success played in role in both players’ development.
“I do think growing up a Carrollton Trojan means a lot,” Teague, who has since retired from coaching in Georgia and now works at a school in Anderson, S.C., said. “They’ve made the playoffs 54 out of 57 years, their fathers were Trojans, their grandfathers were Trojans and a lot of times it’s not about them, it’s about being a Trojan and adding a brick in the wall.
“In Carrollton it’s a culture where you stay there and persevere through whatever you have to. We have had a lot of kids make it to college, and no matter where they go they always stick and graduate. I do think the program nurtures that kind of child, and I was certainly glad that my three children went to school there.”
To call Carrollton a “Friday Night Lights” community is not an overstatement. The school’s football program frequently features second- and third-generation players who grow up dreaming of wearing the school’s brown and gold. Trojan football games are the dominant form of entertainment in town throughout the fall, with demand for the few, non-season ticket locked seats so extreme that a miniature Krzyzewskiville pops up each preseason where fans camp out in line to get their hands on tickets.
In fact, Carrollton fans are so dedicated and broad based throughout the community that tickets to the football game are sold at a business downtown, not at the school campus, as most school’s organize.
If that kind of a crucible of public attention helped forge two current Super Bowlers, it did so only as a supplement to a well of talent and determination that ran deep in both players. While Harris was the more versatile athlete, starring in football, wrestling and baseball at Carrollton, Jones was the more eye-catching athlete. A borderline Olympic-talent track star, he spent summers on the elite prep track circuit, often delaying his start to summer training so he could attend age-group national championship meets in California, Texas and Oregon.
“He was ranked at the top of his class for his events,” said Stacy Lawler, the former Carrollton defensive backs coach who now serves as the school’s athletic director and assistant principal. “We always told him he would have to work up the depth chart when he got back, and he would get back and it would take him about 30 minutes to get back to the top of the depth chart. He was that talented.
“When he had the ninth grade team against the JV, and he was the quarterback, he almost dominated that game by himself to the point where the ninth grade almost beat our sophomores and juniors.”
Teague had another memory of Jones dominating a game which spoke to his current set of skills.
“When he was a sophomore, we were playing a triple option team, and we trapped them two out of four plays,” Teague said. “Then on one play Jonathan caught the pitch man and I thought he almost broke the kid’s neck from his hit, forced the fumble, scooped it up and scored. He is such a hitter, has such instinct and can break on the ball. In that game, he almost single-handedly annihilated the triple option for a half and they just stopped running it.”
Jones’ talent nearly earned him a promotion to the Carrollton varsity squad as a freshman, though the coaching staff eventually decided against the move to avoid disrupting the progress of the freshman class, which would go on to reach the state title game during Jones’ senior season. He then missed playing alongside Harris by a single year at Auburn, though the pair are keenly aware of each other’s success, as is the entire community.
“If we have kids who are playing on Sunday we always try to catch them as much as we can,” Brooks said. “It was really proud watching everything unfold (in the NFC and AFC championship games). That’s all our community is talking about, is the Falcons in the Super Bowl, but even more so having two of our former players in the game. I couldn’t be more proud of those guys and their families. …
“From my perspective, I can’t say that there was a certain time when they were in high school when I thought they would be NFL players. That’s such a small percentage. But I knew they were going to be successful no matter what they did. Jonathan’s athleticism, he stood apart from a lot of people. Josh’s build and work ethic and determination made him stand out. To ever say that I thought they would both end up in the NFL, I don’t think I ever thought that.”
Not only did both former Carrollton stars make it to the NFL, they’ve now made it all the way to the Super Bowl, where for the first time they’ll finally get to take the field at the same time, albeit while wearing different uniforms.
“It dawned on me as a possibility as the playoffs started, but each week as the teams progressed I got more excited,” Teague said. “I mean, what are the chances of this happening? I’m so excited for them, the program at Carrollton and even me personally. … In this day when everyone specializes in one thing and wants to pimp their kid out and send them to IMG, these kids just did everything right. I’ll probably be sitting at home in my chair watching every minute and enjoying it.”