After four years of college athletics, most graduating athletes are obligated to leave the sport they love to make a living doing something unrelated to sports. And when the next season rolls around, a sinking feeling usually rushes into the athlete’s head and heart when the next season rolls around and he or she isn’t playing. But former Mustang wide receiver and special teams standout Darrell Jones isn’t having those feelings. After leading Cal Poly to a 9-2 overall record and a Great West Conference championship in his senior season last year, he will begin his professional football career next month with the Arizona Rattlers of the AFL (Arena Football League).
“I’m getting ready to play again, so I don’t miss it. I’m fortunate enough to not have that feeling, because football hasn’t ended for me,” he said.
After breaking numerous receiving and special teams records at Cal Poly from 2001 to 2004, Jones worked out with several AFL teams before signing with the Rattlers about a month ago. He will join the team in Phoenix on Jan. 4 before the season opener on Jan. 29 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Until then, he is finishing a few classes at Cal Poly and following a rigorous training schedule to prepare for the transition from college to the pros.
“Chris Holder (Cal Poly football strength and conditioning coach) has been guiding me in the weight room,” he said. Throughout the month of December, Jones will be working with a speed coach at San Jose State University.
“There I’ll be running a lot of routes,” he said. “I’m running a 4.4 (seconds in the 40-yard dash) right now, and I plan to be down at a 4.3 soon.”
Jones, whose blazing speed helped him lead the Mustangs in all-purpose yards in each of his four years, holds records as Cal Poly’s all-time leader in receptions (177), kick return yards (1,827), and punt return yards (1,328), to name just a few. He also has Cal Poly’s five longest punt returns and three longest kickoff returns in history.
After achieving so much at the college level, one might wonder where Jones will be in the future. “My ultimate goal is to run off the field in an NFL jersey,” he said. “I feel that I belong there, and I believe I will be there in a couple years.”
Many people, to no avail, dream of playing in the NFL, but for Jones it could become a reality.
“It’s painful to see people I’ve played against go into the NFL, knowing that I can produce better than them,” Jones said. “But that opportunity has a lot to do with timing, being in the right place at the right time.”
Jones mentioned that throughout his life he has been underestimated because of his size.
“I have always been overlooked because of my smaller stature (5 feet 8 inches) so I’ve had to prove myself at every level. I proved myself in high school and in college, and I will at the professional level,” he said. “Being overlooked is my motivation.”
He has also benefited academically from the motivation, as Jones, a recreation administration major, will be the first of his family to graduate from college. He has looked into working as a director of player personnel later in life. Last summer he worked with members of the San Francisco 49ers organization, where he analyzed game tapes, wrote reports and gave presentations that assessed the ability of different players.
In addition to being underestimated, Jones is also motivated by a much different source, his appreciation for the people that have worked with him over the years.
“All the support I’ve had at Cal Poly motivates me even more, because I want to make it in the pros not just for me, but also for the people that have helped me so much,” he said. “Coach Ellerson has been a father figure to me, and when I think of my teammates and what people like Payum Saadat and David Brown (assistant coaches) have done for me- that’s more motivation right there.”