Hazelwood East three-sport standout Jimmy Jones knows all too well that athletic success can be fleeting.
Jones’ father, Jimmy Jones, Jr., excelled in sports back when he was 16. However, he tragically lost his arm in an automobile accident, and that changed everything.
“That’s one thing that motivates me a lot,” the younger Jones said. “I want to do what he wasn’t able to do.”
Right now, Jones is making his dad proud. He’s developed into a dominant football player — excelling on both sides of the ball the past two seasons for the Spartans — he’s become one of the better basketball players in the Suburban North Conference and, this spring, he’s making waves in track and field, too.
As a result of his accomplishments, the junior is the STLhighschoolsports.com North County male Athlete of the Year. He was honored along with other area standouts before the Cardinals game against the Cincinnati Reds on Monday.
“It feels like it’s a big accomplishment,” Jones said about getting the honor. “It drives me to do better. A lot of people are excited about me winning the award. I’m excited about it, too.”
The success he had on the football field this past fall is a big reason why he received the honor. Despite missing nearly 2½ games due to an injury, Jones still rushed 51 times for 400 yards (team-high 7.8 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns and caught six balls for 135 yards and two scores.
On defense, he had 46 tackles and two interceptions from his linebacker position. He was picked to the second-team all-SNC defensive unit after being named to the first team as a sophomore. He was second-teamer on offense in 2011, too.
“He was a very impressive performer on offense and defense this past year,” said East coach Brian Simmons of Jones, who transferred from Edwardsville as a freshman and helped the Spartans make the state playoffs the past two years. “He has the presence of a leader. When he’s sitting out of practice it just is not what it should be.”
“I love the contact, the determination you have to have, the focus, just the hard work you have to put in to be good (in football),” Jones said.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Jones followed up a solid football season this past fall with an even better hoops season. He led the East basketball team in several statistical categories, including points per game (14.8), assists (3.5) and steals (2.8). He also averaged 4.0 rebounds as he led the Spartans to one of their better seasons — they finished 17-11 and made it to the district championship game.
“He was the core, the nucleus, the foundation, of everything we did,” East coach Ron Banks said of Jones, who moved from the forward position to a guard spot with few hiccups.
The highlight of the season for Jones was East’s 74-68 upset of arch rival Hazelwood Central in the district semifinal game. He tallied a game-high 31 points in that contest.
“It felt pretty good,” said Jones, who earned first-team all-SNC honors this winter, of the win over the Hawks. “It’s one of those hard-to-forget games. With our school not beating them in, like, 15 or 16 years, we were like, ‘Let’s change the school’s history.’ We felt it was time for a change.”
Jones felt it was time for a change this spring, too. He didn’t play a sport in the past during this time, but he decided to give track and field a try.
“My motivation in track is to get faster for football,” he said.
East track and field coach Daryl Levy has thoroughly enjoyed having Jones. He’s done so well that Levy has put him in the Spartans’ top 400- and 800-meter relay teams. He’s shown a lot of promise in the high jump as well as other events, too.
“He came out with a great attitude, a great work ethic,” Levy said. “He’s one of our leaders out there. He’s been a fantastic addition to the team.”
Jones is a solid student — he has a cumulative grade point average in the low 3s — and he has the reputation for being a classy young man. Both Banks and Simmons had stories to tell about acts of kindness Jones has performed at East that touched them.
Banks said Jones has taken a foreign exchange student under his wing this spring and made him feel at home at Hazelwood East. Simmons said Jones implored and ultimately succeeded in getting a raucous crown to quiet down in the past when a teacher was trying to give a speech at the school.
“He’s just a great kid,” Hazelwood East athletics director Corey Johnson said.
“I’ve always tried to treat people like I wanted to be treated,” Jones said. “If you do good things, then good things will come to you.”
Jones has played high-level select basketball for the past several summers with Team St. Louis, a squad he won a national title with in 2009. However, he said he plans to scale that back a bit this summer to focus on improving his play on the football field, where he plans to compete at the next level.
“I feel I’m one of the most underrated players in the area as far as being recruited,” he said.
Schools like Arkansas State, Northern Illinois, Wisconsin, Kansas and Tulsa are sniffing around Jones. Simmons is surprised there aren’t a lot more.
“He doesn’t realize how much better he can be,” Simmons said. “He hasn’t reached his full potential.”
“I get that a lot,” Jones said. “I feel I’ve just got to keep working hard.”