Paging Dr. Claude Jones

Just five years after completing his career at the University of Miami, Claude Jones would begin the rest of his life without the game of football.

After finishing his run at UM in 1991, where he helped the Hurricanes win their fourth national title, Jones would sign a free agent contract with the New York Jets. Unlike his line mate, All-American Leon Searcy, there would be no huge signing bonus, a multi-million dollar contract or a lengthy NFL career.

Jones would get cut in training camp.

"It was real tough because it was the first time in my life someone told me I wasn't good enough to play football," said Jones, who started at guard during the 1990 and '91 seasons, alongside stalwarts like Mike Sullivan, Darren Handy, Rudy Barber, Mario and Luis Cristobal, Kelvin Harris and Searcy. "It really hurt and I got down on myself and I really became depressed because when you just came off winning three national titles and then you go to the NFL, which was a dream for me, I just wanted the opportunity to compete in the NFL and I got that opportunity. A lot of kids, never, ever reach that goal.

"So that was the pinnacle for me, just to have the opportunity to go to the NFL and play. And it was great, but when I had to leave the game, I just refused to go like that. I went to the CFL for a couple of years to continue playing because of my love of football. But it was hard to walk away, one of the hardest things I've ever had to do."

After getting cut by the Jets, Jones would begin a four year odyssey that saw him play two years in the CFL with the Sacramento Gold in 1993 and the Las Vegas Posse in 1994. The following two seasons he would play in the Arena Football League for the Miami Hooters and then the Florida Bobcats.

As he prepared for the next stage of his life- away from the gridiron- he took solace in the fact that he not only left UM with three national title rings, but a degree.

"You don't realize it at first how important that degree was because let's face it, the only thing you're really thinking about is going to the next level, you want to play in the NFL, you want to make everything good for you and your family, you want to make a lot of money. That's everyone's dream," said Jones, who majored in sociology.

"But then you realize that,' Hey, what happens if this ends? What are you going to fall back on?' So I really took it upon myself to go to class, go the extra mile, study hard at night. It was difficult, you're coming in from practice, you're tired, you get here at 10 o'clock, 10:30 and to have to sit down and study, it takes a real disciplined person. And that really helped me out in life."

His began his first foray into the real world by going back to his alma mater, Dillard High School, to teach.

"I really didn't like it," Jones admits. "I was young and I was thinking,' Is this what I want to do for the next 30, 35 years?' And that just wasn't it for me because I was always an ambitious person."

Soon he became an investment banker.

"That really opened my eyes on how to balance money, how money really works, how investments work and stuff like that. It became interesting to me but even then I got bored," said the well-spoken Jones. "I wanted a challenge in something else and I always enjoyed science at UM. I took physics and biology just because I thought it was interesting."

Like many other athletes, Jones found it difficult to find his calling in life away from the field of play. His goal was to find a career he'd stick with by the age of 30.

It was then that he talked to his family doctor who broached the idea of medical school. The idea of going back to school didn't particularly interest Jones, who was married with three kids at the time. But eventually he would begin the process of selecting his new career- one that he'd have for the rest of his working life.

He would attend local schools like Palm Beach Community College and FAU to earn his prerequisites- while still working full-time as a banker- to qualify for medical school.

"It was a challenge," admitted Jones. "The decision to go to medical school was even tougher because I had to leave my job."

At the time he had full support of his spouse.

"That was one of the biggest decisions I ever had to make besides what school to go to coming out of high school."

And in choosing a medical school, he just simply let his fingers do the walking.

"To be honest, I was just sitting at my desk and I was thinking about what my doctor had told me," Jones recalled. "I picked up the phone book and I started calling medical schools."

Eventually he settled in at Southeastern College of Osteopathic Medicine (which later merged with Nova Southeastern). But as he began his first steps into the world of medicine, he would be blindsided in 1999.

"My wife asked for a divorce," said Jones. "It was a tough situation for me because we had talked about everything and how the financial struggle was going to be hard. At the time I had left my job and didn't have any extra money coming in and then all of a sudden, she asked for a divorce."

Soon, he would move back in with his mother with his three children. As he went back to work, he would leave medical school.

"I didn't want to leave school totally so I enrolled in the masters program at the urging of some of my professors at the school," Jones said. "So I enrolled in a dual program for the masters of public health."

During that spell he would he would also nab a job on campus that paid all of $150 a week. By 2002, Jones would return as a full-time student and this past May he graduated. A long, arduous journey completed, a career in front of him.

"Medical school was the toughest challenge mentally and physically I've even been through in my life," he says.

Now, Jones spends his days at the Columbia Hospital in West Palm Beach.

"I'm doing family medicine now and it's just great because 'doctor' becomes your first name now," he says, with pride. "No one knows what your first name is."

And some of his patients are a bit surprised that a former Hurricane is looking over them.

"People are really stunned because of the 'dumb jock' theory, that you go to college and the school kind of pushes you through," he said with a chuckle. "But I tell people no one ever gave me anything, I had to work for it and as a matter of fact I still sign autographs for people and even now, people are still amazed I played for the University of Miami."

Yeah, especially those notorious, 2-Live Canes of the 80's and early 90's. Jones proudly sports the national championship rings from '89 and '91 on his fingers.

"When they see those rings and everything, I kind of tell them about what it was like, it's still that star status."

So after it was all said and done, was the struggle worth it?

"It was absolutely worth the price," he says emphatically. "You don't see it at first but nothing comes easy. If it comes easy, it's probably not a good thing. But you feel fulfilled inside because of the fact you worked so hard to get it and it didn't come easy. So you look at it in a different perspective because you worked so hard for it. I still can't believe it now and even when I go back to reunions and tell my ex-teammates what I'm doing- they still don't believe it.

"But some of them say,' Y'know, what Claude? You did work hard when you were in college and you did go to class.' I didn't know a lot of them noticed how hard I was working. So it's just great to be back and those guys still respect you in that way."

It was obvious that during his time at Coral Gables, Jones was a true 'student-athlete', which is becoming more and more of a misnomer as time goes by across the country. Simply put, too many kids nowadays don't take advantage of a college scholarship outside of exhausting their eligibility.

"Most of them don't," agreed Jones, who will turn 36 in mid-September, "because you get caught up in the star status. It takes a lot because the focus isn't on the classroom anymore. You get caught up into all the parties and instant star status. People are treating you like a king and you're a young kid at the time and having never been involved in something like that, you can really get caught up."

Since the mid-80's when Jimmy Johnson took over the program from Howard Schnellenberger, Miami's football program has consistently been lauded for its consistently high graduation rates of its football players by the NCAA.

Jones says the work ethic he honed at Miami helped prepare him for life after football. "The discipline I learned at UM, the times when I got home from practice and I had to study late at night, that carried over into the real world." And the infrastructure provided to him by the school was invaluable. "They gave us all the tools to succeed. They gave us private tutoring, we had academic advisers, we had study hall, we had first shot at all the classes. So we never got shut out of a class that we wanted to take.

"We took tutors on road trips with us, so everything was there for you to succeed. It's if you wanted to succeed, that's what it came down to. Because everything was there and the University of Miami, I'll always bleed orange and green because of what they did for me and what the coaches did for me there to set me up for life.

"It's amazing."

PART II- Claude talks about his playing days at the University of Miami

( Steve Kim is a regular contributor to CanesTime and runs his own website at MaxBoxing.com. For questions or comments, he can be reached at k9kim@yahoo.com)

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