Posted: Tuesday May 1, 2012 11:02AM ; Updated: Wednesday May 2, 2012 2:03PM
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After horrible tragedy, Jaashawn Jones keeps his NFL dream alive

Story Highlights

When he was 17, Jaashawn Jones saw older brother shot and killed in front of him

Jones has been haunted by incident, suffers from post traumatic stress disorder

Jones will graduate from Delaware St. and hopes to make NFL team as free agent

By Scott Stump, Special to SI.com

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Jaashawn Jones found a home as a running back at Delaware State and hopes to one day play in the NFL.
Jaashawn Jones found a home as a running back at Delaware State and hopes to one day play in the NFL.
Courtesy of Delaware State University

Like any player from a small school hoping to make an NFL roster as an undrafted free agent, Delaware State's Jaashawn Jones has plenty of supporters echoing the same sentiment.

Just give him a chance.

During the past six years, those words have had an entirely different meaning, haunting him as he grew into a chiseled 6-foot-1, 225-pound running back. They reminded him of the worst night of his life, a vivid memory that could be triggered in an instant by a simple turn of a doorknob or a loud noise.

Now those words refer to a potential NFL career, an opportunity to honor a brother, a chance to represent a community aching for a role model, and the ability to take care of the family that has watched over him amid the hardest of times. All Jones wants is a chance.

Jones' NFL prospects received a boost when he was selected to the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) All-Star Bowl on Dec. 18 in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. He had nine carries for 50 yards for the highest per-carry average (5.6) of any back in the game for the victorious East squad. His combination of size and speed had numerous teams at least inquiring about his draft day contact information.

Veteran agent Everette Scott was so touched by Jones' story that he decided to take him on as a client. "When you go through the adversity he has endured in his life, it takes a special person to keep going,'' Scott said. "His story is outrageous. If I'm a GM, I want someone with that kind of character representing my brand, especially someone with that combination of size and speed who can genuinely play.''

The dream of playing in the NFL is what kept Jones alive when an armed robber stood over him in 2005, debating whether to put a bullet in the back of his head. The three assailants in his older brother's apartment that night had no idea that Jaashawn Jones was a 17-year-old star running back for Asbury Park (N.J.) High, and they didn't care.

They just knew that the money they were there to steal could not be found and they were getting tired of the excuses. As they became more hostile, Saahron "Loggy'' Jones, 27, did not beg for his life as he lay face down and tied up on the floor. He instead pleaded with a woman and two men to spare his brother's life.

My little brother is a football player. He has a bright future. Your problem is with me. Just give him a chance and let him live.

As Saahron lay on the floor in a room only about 10 feet from where Jaashawn was being held face down with a coat over his head, the attackers cranked up the volume on the television. One of them placed a pillow on the back of Saahron's head to muffle the sound of a gun shot before firing a single fatal shot into the back of his skull.

"Once I heard the shot, I figured I was next,'' Jones said.

*****

Jones grew up in Asbury Park, the city on the Jersey Shore where U.S. presidents once vacationed and the place where Bruce Springsteen famously sent his greetings from. While the beachfront began to experience revitalization in the 2000s, the Asbury Park Jones knows is one defined by gangs and drugs.

His family moved multiple times when he was young, eventually settling in a house on Summerfield Avenue in a tough part of town. A familiar destination was the field just south of the train station and across the street from the Boston Way Village projects, where the kids from the different neighborhoods would gather in all conditions to play football.

"We called it the Super Bowl,'' Jones said. "It didn't matter if it was snowing and 20 degrees out, we would be out there.''

Jones played Pop Warner in Asbury Park with his cousin, Prince Young, and good friend Vinny Curry. The three would sit after practice and talk about how one day they would play in the real Super Bowl. Young is now a rising senior running back at Northern Michigan, while Curry is a star defensive end from Marshall, who was drafted by the Eagles in the second round last Friday.

While Young starred as a running back at a high school one county away and Curry played for Asbury Park's longtime rival, Neptune High, Jones attended tiny Academy Charter, a school of 140 students two towns over in Lake Como. Academy Charter accepts Asbury Park residents on a lottery basis, and when his name was selected, Jones chose to go there rather than Asbury Park High. He wanted to avoid the growing violence between Haitian-American and African-American students that had mushroomed in the early 2000s.

Jones still played football for Asbury Park because Academy Charter does not have a team, so its students are allowed to play for their local school district. In his senior season in 2005, Jones ran for more than 1,100 yards for a team that reached the state playoffs, drawing some interest from Big East programs. However, he was overshadowed by local stars in his own county like Indianapolis Colts running back Donald Brown of Red Bank Catholic and Denver Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno of Middletown South, both of whom were first-round draft picks in 2009.

Still, Jones got good grades and earned a spot in the annual North-South Classic, a statewide all-star game held in June that usually attracted numerous college coaches. His future was bright. All he needed was a chance.

*****

On Dec. 31, 2005 Jones bounded up the steps to his older brother's second-floor apartment in Asbury Park, making a quick pit stop to grab a gold chain that would complete his New Year's Eve outfit. Only minutes earlier, Jaashawn had called over to his brother's house and hadn't got an answer, but figured Loggy was just in the shower.

As they parked at the curb across the street from his brother's apartment, Jaashawn told Young to wait in the car because he would be right back. It was close to 9 p.m. when he turned the doorknob and sensed something wasn't right.

The bottom lock was unlocked, but the dead bolt above it was locked. Loggy almost never locked the door when he was home, and he never used the deadbolt. After a few knocks, the door opened into the long hallway of the apartment. Jones took one step inside to find an unknown man pointing a gun in his face. Another man closed the door behind him and forced him to the floor as he saw his brother tied up in the other room.

"I'm just thinking they're about to kill the both of us,'' Jones said.

 
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