You can’t tell Aaron Jones’ story without talking about family.
The son of military parents, Jones was born in Savannah, Ga., and lived in Germany, Tennessee, Virginia and El Paso. Now, it’s onto Green Bay, where he was the second of the Packers’ fifth-round draft choices following a decorated career at Texas-El Paso.
“He’s the leading rusher in Texas Western/UTEP Miner history, which goes back a hundred years — and he did it in three seasons and two games,” said Nathan Poss, UTEP’s longtime director of football operations.
Jones was not a hot commodity coming out of high school. He was a two-star recruit at Burges High School in El Paso, where he starred alongside twin brother Alvin.
“He and his brother came to UTEP together,” Poss said. “His brother was the quarterback and Aaron was the running back and, of course, they both played defense at Burges High School here in El Paso. He came in at 165 pounds. He knew that in order to be an every-down running back, he had to gain weight. He did it gradually over the course of time. He worked hard, lifted and ran hard, and made himself that way. To be honest, when we signed him, we had no idea that he would turn out to be the productive player that he was.”
Jones rushed for 811 yards as a true freshman in 2013 and was a breakout star as a sophomore with 1,321 rushing yards and 30 receptions. Against Texas Tech in the second game of the 2015 season, he was off to the races for a school-record 91-yard touchdown run before sustaining a season-ending foot injury. Given a medical redshirt, Jones returned in a big way in 2016 with a school-record 1,773 rushing yards plus 28 receptions.
With a UTEP-record 4,114 career rushing yards, the NFL was calling. So was family. Jones had played youth football alongside Alvin since they were 5, when the twins suited up for the Packers in Clarksville, Tenn. Not only did they play football at UTEP, but they spent part of their freshman seasons on the basketball team after a few players were kicked off the team. Jones considered returning for his senior season to play one more year with Alvin.
“It definitely was tough,” Jones said of the decision. “My brother, we played together my whole life. That was one of my hardest decisions leaving him but he told me, ‘Hey, it’s been your dream since you were a little kid. Go live out your dream and hopefully I’ll be following you next year.’”
Jones followed his brother’s advice. For the third day of the draft, Jones was surrounded by family. Poss joined the gathering.
“I’m close to my family but, outside of my own family, the Joneses and Aaron, they are family. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything,” Poss said.
“It got tense as the draft went on. I sat there with Mrs. Jones throughout most of the fifth round and I saw other running backs that I know Aaron is as good as or better than be drafted, but he’s not from a Power 5 school. When he got the call, the place erupted. Erupted.”
No different than how the Sun Bowl, UTEP’s home stadium, erupted during one of Jones’ many breakaway runs. Jones, however, made his mark at the school beyond having his name etched throughout the record book. Poss organizes the team’s community-service program. Jones was always front and center, treating strangers like, well, family.
“Aaron Jones is always a leader,” Poss said. “He does so much with the Child Crisis Center of El Paso. Any opportunity he has to work with kids, he’s first class. He doesn’t do it because you say, ‘You have to do it.’ He does it because he’s such a genuinely good guy. Those people are hard to find. He always has a smile on his face and he’s always willing to stop and talk to people and take time to be friendly. He makes everybody feel important.”
Said Lorraine Gomez, the executive director of the Child Crisis Center: “The UTEP football team are great supporters of the Child Crisis Center. Coach Nate Poss has been critical in providing our children the opportunity to develop deep friendships with the players, and Mr. Jones is no exception. He has been to our facility on numerous occasions and the children here have been absolutely thrilled to interact and get to know him as a player and person. It is great to have one of our former volunteers play at the professional level.”
If Poss is part of Jones’ extended family, then Jones is part of Poss’s extended family. After raving about Jones during a phone interview, Poss called back to share one more anecdote. It’s a story that probably wouldn’t have been told had Jones been an extraordinary player but only an ordinary person.
“My brother Del, who lives in Madison (Wis.), it was his birthday Saturday and Aaron got drafted by the Green Bay Packers on Del’s birthday,” Poss said. “My brother was ecstatic. It’s like the stars aligned in my world to have Aaron Jones be drafted on April 29 by the Green Bay Packers. He’s still on Cloud 9 right now because Aaron Jones is going to be a Packer and he was drafted on his birthday.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.