State of the Hogs: Keeping Up with the Joneses

It's difficult to tell which impressed Paula and Steve Jones the most after checking into their posh suite in a ritzy Jacksonville, Fla., hotel on Thursday.

Was it the three bathrooms, or the art decorating the many rooms? And, that was BEFORE they saw the veranda overlooking the St. John's River.

"Pretty nice," said Steve Jones. "Paula is having fun looking at all this art. We are kinda taken back by all of this. And, they tell me they have turkeys down here to hunt nearby. This might be all right."

So far, the Joneses are living it up on the Jacksonville Jaguars' dime. They are guests of the NFL franchise this week while son Matt goes through his first mini camp after the Jags took the Arkansas quarterback as the 21st pick in the first round of the draft last weekend.

"They say the turkeys down here are Osceolas," said Steve, Matt's dad. "I'm not going to go (hunting) this weekend, but I'd like to try hunting down here."

The chances are good that Steve and Paula will be back often. In fact, Steve confirmed that Matt's mom is going to accept Matt's offer of "taking care" of some of her son's affairs. She will retire as a teacher and bounce between Van Buren and Florida.

"Matt wants to be able to concentrate entirely on football and wants his mom to help him with a lot of things," Steve said. "So Paula isn't going to teach anymore. We still haven't decided how much we will be here, but we may get a second place near here, maybe in St. Augustine, to help Matt. I told Matt that it wouldn't hurt our feelings if he didn't want us around, but he says he does.

"St. Augustine instead of Jacksonville? We thought that would be good so we wouldn't just be right on top of Matt. But he acts like he wants us here. I was surprised but he wanted us here for this weekend. He was down here for a day last weekend and when he came home, he said, ‘They said it was all right for you to come back down with me for the mini camp.' I knew what that meant. That's how he invites you somewhere. He tells you it's OK for you to come."

It was easy to sense the excitement in the voices of Matt's parents. And, why not? Few go from teaching school to retirement in the blink of an eye.

Matt has yet to sign a contract with the Jags, but it promises to be a series of huge checks. Last year, the 21st pick in the draft signed a 6-year, $9 million contract with a $3 million signing bonus. The 21st pick in the 2003 draft got $2.35 million up front and $9.1 million over seven years. Matt's numbers will be in that range.

It's been a busy week for Steve Jones. He's been talking to bankers setting up a line of credit so Matt can shop for a condo in Jacksonville. There was some time set aside for turkey hunting in the Ozark mountains, but that was cut short because Matt wanted to get in two workouts a day to get ready for the mini camp.

"I've never seen him so excited," Steve said. "He's really been something. And our phones haven't stopped ringing. I tried to go to school (to teach) and my cell phone never quit."

The turkey hunting was supposed to happen Tuesday and Wednesday.

"We'd been earlier and knew where this gobbler was," Steve said. "I took Matt out and called him up and he stopped just out of range and Matt didn't get a shot. So we were going back this week. And, he decided he better be working out instead. Now that's different for that boy.

"We were leaving and he tells me, ‘Dad, don't come back here and kill that bird. He's mine.' But I don't know when we'll get to hunt it again."

Matt has been too busy for anything other than football right now. Steve had to cancel an interview for Matt with a Little Rock television station Wednesday afternoon because Matt was deep in playbook study.

"I'm going to tell you that's the first time I've known him to study a playbook," Steve said. "I don't think he ever studied the playbook at Arkansas. Well, let's say in four years, I never heard him say he couldn't do something because he was studying the playbook. It's as excited as I've ever seen the boy."

Steve thinks he understands, and it's not about the money. Matt has yet to buy anything. He still drives a two-door Tahoe he's had for most of his college days.

"I think he knows that the Jaguars have caught some flak for drafting him so high and he doesn't want to let them down," Steve said. "He appreciates the faith they showed in him. He wants to show everyone that he deserved to go in the first round and that he appreciates the way Jacksonville stepped up."

It wasn't just the Jags who had Matt rated so highly. If they hadn't taken him with the 21st pick, others were ready. Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Denver and Chicago all coveted Jones. I've learned that Chicago also contacted Jacksonville with hopes of trading for its 21st pick with the desire to draft Matt.

"I knew about some of that," Steve said. "But you can't ever be sure of anything when it comes to the draft. Jacksonville was in early and then we didn't hear a peep out of them. They did their homework and then shut up."

That's kinda like a good turkey hunter. No use giving away anything with too much noise.

"They didn't give away anything," Steve agreed. "But I got to tell you this, Matt almost didn't do that private workout (with Jacksonville) that first week after the combine. I got a call from Jacksonville to set up the private workout and I said come on, but I couldn't find Matt on the phone. Coach (Houston) Nutt couldn't find him either. I knew they were on the way when I finally got Matt and he said, ‘Dad, no, we aren't doing any private workouts. Tell them to come here on pro scouting day like the rest. No private workouts.'

"I told Matt he had to do it because I had given the Jacksonville coaches my word and they were on the way. So he went ahead with it."

Now Matt is holding his father to his word on that gobbler left behind in the Ozarks. Knowing the way Matt and Steve love their hunting, that deal may be more important than the one the Jags are cooking up.



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CLAY HENRY IS THE PUBLISHER OF HAWGS ILLUSTRATED, A STEPHENS MEDIA GROUP PUBLICATION. HIS COLUMN APPEARS EACH FRIDAY. E-MAIL: CLAY@NWAONLINE.NET

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