One word initially comes to the mind of Carrollton High School boys' track and field head coach Craig Musselwhite when he thinks about former Trojan standout Jonathan Jones — winner.
Musselwhite coached Jones, who is now in his third season with the New England Patriots, when he was on the track and field team at CHS. He recalls the impact the track star had on the legacy of the nation's top track and field program.
"He was one of our hurdler guys, relay guys, long jump guys. He's a winner, and pretty much did well at everything he ever decided to do," Musselwhite said. "That's definitely carried over to where he's at now."
Jones has been a member of successful football teams at all three levels of football, playing in championship games in high school, college and the NFL.
He and the Trojans played in the 2010 Class AAA state championship his junior year, falling to Sandy Creek, 14-7. Jones returned to the pinnacle of the sport during his sophomore season at Auburn University, as the Tigers squared off against Florida State in the national championship. And, since signing with the Patriots in 2016, he's been a member of a team that's made it to three consecutive Super Bowls, including winning it all as a rookie in Houston against the Atlanta Falcons.
But prior to the triumphs he's had in professional football, Jones was a winner on the track. He competed at national meets every summer under head coach Larry Turner and the Carrollton Summer Track program and helped lead CHS to three consecutive state championships in Jefferson.
He credits the time he spent on the track for the Trojans with helping him throughout his career on the gridiron.
"Being able to have the success on the track that I did at Carrollton has definitely been able to help me throughout my football career," Jones said. "Not even so much for the speed, but just the total assets."
Musselwhite noted that Jones' speed as a hurdler gives him a competitive advantage over other top athletes due to the acceleration of their start-up time as opposed to traditional runners.
"Hurdlers have to get up and run quicker than sprinters. They have to be full-speed in four or five steps," Musselwhite said. "A sprinter, he's looking at about 15 steps. So it's almost double time to be faster. To me, being a hurdler has helped him in that manner."
Jones affirmed his former coach's thoughts,
"Track has definitely been a big influence on my running," Jones said. "(Football and track) are different sports when you break them down, but I've definitely carried the athleticism that comes with jumping hurdles and things like that."
Another gift Musselwhite believes the sport gave to Jones was confidence. He's noted observing an increase in self-assurance when watching Jones play on Sundays.
"I watch him play now, and I watch him when he lines up on people. He looks so confident, looks so relaxed," Musselwhite said. "I think being fast and being confident allows you to be confident and know you can have a hand-up on somebody."
Prior to watching the Patriots' AFC Championship game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Jan. 20, Musselwhite had a feeling Jones was going to be a key contributor for New England. He turned to his wife and told her the Patriots were going to assign Jones to cover wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who is widely regarded as one of the fastest and most explosive players in the NFL.
His intuition proved to be correct, and Jones' speed helped shut down Hill as the Patriots ultimately punched their ticket to the Super Bowl.
"In the NFL, Jonathan says that everybody is fast, but just having that speed and running mechanics can allow you to line up on somebody and, probably, allow you to know how fast you've got to be to cover somebody," Musselwhite said.
Jones and the Patriots' defensive unit will look to slow down the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII this Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta for the 6:30 p.m. grand finale to the 2018 campaign.