Within Reach

The path to stardom for Dwight Jones wasn't a simple one, yet he enters the 2011 season on the brink of his goals and is working hard to bring them to fruition.

This article is from the September 2011 Issue of the Inside Carolina Magazine. To learn more about the publication and how to subscribe, CLICK HERE.

Within Reach
The path to stardom for Dwight Jones wasn't a simple one, yet he enters the 2011 season on the brink of his goals and is working hard to bring them to fruition.

Inside Carolina Magazine
September 2011
WORDS: Nolan Hayes
PHOTOS: Jim Hawkins/Inside Carolina

wight Jones has completed an afternoon weight-training session, his second workout of the day, and is heading to his next appointment. He takes a short walk inside the Kenan Football Center, arriving at a door leading to the Charlie Justice Hall of Honor. He can see through the glass what awaits him on the other side: photos, trophies, and other artifacts commemorating important moments in the history of North Carolina's football program.

Without pause, Jones opens the door and walks into the room. It's a mundane moment during an activity-packed day for the 6-foot-5 wide receiver, but Jones takes nothing for granted. He remembers when the door between himself and greatness at UNC was locked, when he was close enough to see everything that awaited him but couldn't get there. Now, after years of setbacks and struggles, that figurative door is like Jones on a Saturday afternoon: wide open.

"It's crazy," Jones said, considering his surroundings in the Hall of Honor. "People really don't understand my story and how blessed I am to have this opportunity."

The opportunity in front of Jones during his senior season is large and multi-faceted. With the ACC's Coastal Division lacking a surefire favorite in 2011, Jones has the chance to help the Tar Heels contend for their first conference championship since 1980. That's his primary goal.

But Jones also has plenty he can accomplish individually as he looks to build on last season, when he broke out with 62 receptions for 946 yards and four touchdowns. He has the chance to establish himself as one of the best receivers in the country. He has the chance to become one of the most prolific pass catchers in UNC history. And, if he succeeds in those endeavors, he has the chance to move on to the NFL and gain financial security for his family, including his 4-year-old son, Cam'ron.

With all of that at stake, Jones is all business in 2011. He offers no apologies for it.

"People are always asking me what I'm doing for the weekend," Jones said. "Nothing. I'm going to work out. That's it. There's no partying, there's no going out late. When I go home, I might stop by and see my friends, but there's no more staying out late. I'm always working."

His coaches have noticed the increased dedication. Jones entered the spring with a firm grip on a starting job for the first time in his college career, but he showed no signs of being satisfied.

"Everyone wondered who was going to emerge last year as a receiver, and his play warranted respect," former UNC coach Butch Davis said. "But his off-season work ethic in our drills and our conditioning and the way he's practicing, he is like a man on a mission."

That attitude has helped Jones ascend to his current status after a slow start to his college career. Five years ago, no one would have been surprised to find out that Jones produced a junior season in which he ranked fourth in the ACC in receiving yards (72.8 per game) and sixth in the league in receptions (4.8 per game).

"There were times when Dwight came up to me in the huddle," T.J. Yates said, "and he's like, ‘T.J., throw me the freaking ball. I'll go get it. Just throw it to me. I'll take care of it.' It's one of those things where he's not being disrespectful. He's just a playmaker who wants the ball. That's the kind of guy you want to throw the football to."

Said Jones: "I just feel like I'm a different person on the field. If you feel like you can help your team win, you've got to do that and have the confidence in yourself and the ability you have. You've just got to feel like you're better than everyone you step on the field against and that nobody can stop you."

This season, of course, Jones won't be asking Yates for the ball. Yates was a fifth-round pick of the NFL's Houston Texans, leaving third-year sophomore Bryn Renner as UNC's starting quarterback. Jones and Renner spent the offseason working to develop their chemistry, and they hooked up on four passes for 56 yards during the UNC spring game.

There's no telling how often Renner and Jones will connect during the season—Jones figures to see plenty of double coverage—but Jones dreams of 1,500 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. That kind of season would earn Jones some permanent space in UNC's Hall of Honor.

Now, though, he gets up from his seat and prepares to walk out of his school's football museum. He has one appointment left, a tee time with his son for some miniature golf. Jones plans to spend the rest of the day playing with Cam'ron, but he'll spend the 2011 season playing for Cam'ron.

"He lets me see what I'm really working for and pushes me to be the person I am," Jones said. "It's a very special thing. For me, even to have the opportunity to be here right now and have the opportunity to provide for my family, it's a great feeling."

*** To read the full article, check out the September Issue of the Inside Carolina Magazine ***

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