If Mike Jones's entry in the Fitch High yearbook listed only a few of his activities since junior high, it might read like this: drug dealer, student of the month, marijuana abuser, homecoming court, gang leader, co-captain of the football team.
Only 18, Jones has already lived two lives. After running away from his home in Brooklyn when he was 14, he ended up prowling the streets of New Haven, Conn. As a young teen he was arrested a dozen times. "I used to carry G-bundles [50-bag supplies of cocaine] and make $600 a night," he says. "But I'd spend a thousand a week on weed."
He got high every morning smoking marijuana dipped in embalming fluid. He had his own gang, the Knockout Posse, and carried a .357 Magnum. "I hit a kid in the head with a brick once," says Jones. "Another time I shot at a guy because he wouldn't sell me weed."
After several stints in detention centers and reform school, Jones landed in a group home for teenage boys, the New England Adolescent Treatment Center (NEATC), in Groton, Conn. There he met a counselor named Ron Adams. "I hadn't known Mike long when I told him that if he could quit smoking cigarettes for a month, I'd take him out to dinner," says Adams. "Three days later he told me we'd have to start over because he'd smoked one. He didn't have to tell me that. That's when I began to think Mike might have a chance."
While living at NEATC, Jones enrolled at Fitch, which also is in Groton. He ran track as a freshman, but when people encouraged him to don pads, he balked for what seemed a bizarre reason to anyone familiar with his past. "I was afraid of getting hurt," says Jones.
Eventually he relented, and this year, as a senior halfback, Jones is averaging 15 yards per carry for Fitch, which is 9-0. Last Saturday, in the Falcons' 42-0 win over Ledyard High, Jones rushed for 144 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries. But his most impressive statistic is his academic rank: 65th in a class of 228.
Jones now lives with his foster parents, Anthony and Rachel Evans, in nearby Mystic. Says his coach, Mike Emery, "You will not find a better kid across the whole country. Mike's committed to turning his life around."
Says Jones, "I feel like I'm living in a dream."