Chicago Bears undrafted rookie defensive back Jeremy Jones almost gave up football after four years starting for Rockford High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan. After two state titles and three championship games, he wondered if his desire to play remained.
Yet Jones changed his mind after a full athletic scholarship offer came from Wayne State, where he excelled. He finished his collegiate career with 17 interceptions, third most in school history, and three returns for touchdowns.
He wasn't selected in this year's NFL Draft but was signed by Chicago shortly afterward. Jones was an in-the-box safety in college yet has been working as nickelback during minicamp, backing up D.J. Moore in the slot.
Jones talks with Bear Report about his transition to the NFL and what he expects to accomplish this offseason.
"I'm from a Division II school and I expected the competition at this level to be tough. That is definitely what I've seen so far – the speed too. Everything happens quickly when you are playing in the pros. If you aren't paying attention all of the time, you'll get left behind.
"On the other hand it's also been so much more fun than I imagined it would be. The vets are great. The other rookies are real good guys. It's a family feeling here at Halas Hall. I know I need to work hard to accomplish my ultimate goal, which is to be a starter, but at this point it seems possible.
"I've been fortunate enough to have a lot of field time during the minicamps, so that has been excellent for building my skills and my confidence. Today I swooped in on a wide receiver and got an interception. How neat is that?
"Coach has been harping on the importance of turnovers all week so it was very important to me to get at least one. It shows me that I can function at this level if I am willing to put in the effort.
"In Chicago with this defense, takeaways are the top priority. That is how we win championships. What rookies are told is 'takeaways, takeaways, takeaways." Over and over again. It's what I'm hearing now even in my sleep.
"The entire rookie experience so far has been slightly overwhelming in the sense that there is so much thrown at you all at once. There's no down time. You are learning the playbook and then out on the field. It's intense but I'm thriving on it. I want to be working all of the time at top speed. My solution to preserve my body is to eat well and to rest when I can. Am I having fun? Absolutely. It doesn't get better than this.
"I'm a Michigan guy so I don't expect the weather to hit me this fall and winter as it would get to the players who are just in from southern states. Bring on the snow. I'm ready for that, Chicago is the right place for me because I love cold weather.
"Winter conditions do interesting things when you are on the football field. For me personally it's a tremendous advantage as I feel everything slows down when the temperature drops. The plays are slower. The ball isn't quite as quick through the air. As a defender it gives you a little more time to set up. In the middle of winter, Soldier Field is wild. I can't wait for that.
"I give my mom credit for getting me here. I was tired of football once high school was over. I wanted to go to college but wasn't sure I wanted to continue with the grind of working out and practices.
"Without telling me, she sent my game film around to several colleges. I was surprised, but ultimately I was grateful for that. It's how I got my scholarship at Wayne State. It took me a year or so after playing there to feel my love for the game return, but once that happened, I felt really happy every time I was on the field. I loved the competition, the energy and the friendships among players.
"Now that I am in the NFL, my interest in the game and my dedication to it is as high as it possibly could be. This is my job now and I'm thrilled to have this opportunity. I've been playing this game since I was 6. Football was the only sport I ever really cared about. Being here now is the culmination of years of work and dedication.
"The vets have been great. They razz the rookies now and then but that is to be expected. Mostly though, they are helping us. The DBs are always giving me advice to help me improve. They know a lot more than I do so I listen to everything they say.
"We have a short break now until the end of July and the start of training camp. I'm going to go home and get organized for my move here. I'm going to get some rest, hang out with my friends and just enjoy life. I know what is coming up later this summer will be difficult and challenging but I can't wait to get back here and start to work."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.