Second Chances Part of TE's Story

The Vikings have insisted that character is a major part of who they drafted this weekend, and they must have done their homework on an undrafted tight end. He brings strong athletic potential, a history of baggage and second chances, and more recently an appreciation for the opportunity in front of him.

After signing Todd Lowber and going through draft weekend selecting a number of football players who also excelled in different facets of track and field, the Vikings have agreed to terms with another football player with track and field in his background.

But a second-place finish in long jump during high school at Illinois' state meet isn't the most significant piece of Braden Jones' history that the Minnesota Vikings have to investigate.

Jones is getting another chance in football after receiving several second chances before.

In 2001, he enrolled at Northwestern and was expected to be a linebacker. But he was forced to redshirt because of head injuries he sustained during a fight while visiting his brother at Vanderbilt.

In 2002, he started nine games and registered 76 tackles (along with being an Academic All-Big Ten choice). In the classroom, he earned the same honors in 2003, but his opportunities declined on the football field, garnering only two starts and 39 tackles as trouble seemed to follow him once again.

That year, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery and unlawful use of a driver's license, charges that came out of a frat-party incident. In 2004, Jones continued to attend Northwestern, but his football career there was over when was convicted of battery and eventually transferred to Southern Illinois looking for a fresh start.

His agent, Chris Schuering, told the Chicago Tribune that Jones entered a rehab program for alcohol and anger management and spent 37 days there.

During his final days on the Northwestern team, Jones was going to make the transition from linebacker to tight end, a switch he followed through with during his transfer to Southern Illinois. The geographical and positional move coincided with Jones' efforts to get help and stay out of trouble.

In 2005, he caught 16 passes, including two touchdowns, as a tight end for the Salukis. In 2006, his production at tight end doubled, catching 32 passes for 521 yards (an impressive 16.3-yard average) and seven touchdowns.

"Physically, he's the complete package at tight end," NFLDraftScout.com writes about Jones.

And he offers some possibilities on special teams after blocking two kicks and returning a fumble for a touchdown in 2006.

But better yet, it's been two years since Jones has had a serious run-in with the law after a streak that included an incident in which he went into the stands during a game against Ohio State. He is on the record acknowledging the second chances he received from former Northwestern coach Randy Walker and then Southern Illinois coach Jerry Kill.

"Eventually, I had to grow up," Jones told the Tribune, the same newspaper that once named him to its all-state team after helping them to a 14-0 record and the 3A title as a running back, wide receiver, tight end and safety. "I was immature and making poor decisions."

"Eventually" might have hit two years ago. At least the Vikings are hoping so.


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