When Everett Golson leads the University of Notre Dame’s football team tonight in its quest for a national championship, Demetrius Jones will be rooting for him.
Golson is the seventh African-American to start at quarterback for the Fighting Irish; Jones was the sixth, having made his debut in the first game of the 2007 season. Jones had size and speed and a rifle arm and, briefly, inspired great hope among Domers.
But his career proved short and anything but sweet. Now, at 25, he’s a volunteer football coach in Merrillville, Ind., and says he hopes to play in the upcoming season for the Chicago Slaughter of the Indoor Football League.
If he’s remembered at all among Notre Dame fans, it’s for the way he left the team, not for anything he did on the field. And while he says he’s happy to see Golson playing and Notre Dame winning, his feelings about the school are not all sunny.
Less than a decade ago, Jones was one of the top-rated high school football players in the country. As a junior at Morgan Park High School in Chicago, he threw for 2,300 yards and 21 touchdowns with only three interceptions. He was one of seven quarterbacks on Parade Magazine’s prep All-America team. In 2005, he was the Gatorade high school player of the year for Illinois.
Jones grew up in the South Chicago neighborhood, where his family lived until Demetrius was in second grade. Then the family moved to the Washington Heights neighborhood on the city’s far Southside. He was raised by his mother, La’Shaun Dumas, a clinical supervisor at Treatment Alternatives for a Safer Community, and his stepfather, Jerry Patton, a carpenter for the city of Chicago.
Demetrius fell in love with football because his older brother, Je’shawn, played the game. “He played varsity at Julian High School for three years,” Jones said in an interview last month. “He was the one who really put the football in my hands.”
Along with his athletic prowess came nicknames, including “D-Train” and “Mo-Po (for Morgan Park) Jones.” But the one that sticks with him to this day is “Double-D,” the nickname given to him by his grandmother, Dorothy. “Double-D’s short for ‘Double Disaster,’” he said. “I was always getting in trouble.”
Indeed, trouble remained close at hand throughout his football career.
According to the college recruiting website Rivals.com, the top ten high school quarterbacks of 2006 were:
1. Matthew Stafford
2. Mitch Mustain
3. Tim Tebow
4. Demetrius Jones
5. Jevan Snead
6. Jake Locker
7. Juice Williams
8. Josh Freeman
9. Jeremy Ricker
10. Pat Devlin
Sam Bradford, Christian Ponder, and Colin Kaepernick also were a part that class. Jones chose Notre Dame and coach Tyrone Willingham after receiving numerous scholarship offers. When Willingham was fired in 2004, former New England Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis replaced him.
Jones entered the 2007 season as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback against Georgia Tech. In anticipation, he had a barber shave the Notre Dame logo into his scalp. But the game did not go the way he planned. Jones completed one pass in three attempts for four yards and lost two fumbles. He was replaced by Jimmy Clausen, a more traditional quarterback who tended to stay in the pocket.
He recalled standing on the sideline in disbelief. NBC’s cameras caught up with him after he wouldn’t speak to coach Weis. “I remember it like it was yesterday,” he said. “I was picking my nose trying to not look in the camera to show my frustration. I said f—k it…it was written all over my face…. I made up my mind during the game I was out of there.”
Jones said he felt “bamboozled” by Weis and Notre Dame. He said the school took advantage of his presence to recruit more Chicago kids but never gave him a fair chance to succeed. “Charlie Weis said to me once in a quarterback meeting that I’m too high risk/high reward, he doesn’t know what I’m going to do when I go back there. He told me that I was like a Lamborghini and Jimmy was like a Benz.”
Weis, now coaching at the University of Kansas, did not respond to a request for an interview.
Jones transferred to Northern Illinois, and then again to Cincinnati where he played linebacker for the unbeaten 2009 football squad. “I switched positions to get on the field,” he said. After two seasons, he was dismissed from the team for academic reasons.
From there, he went to Central State University, a Division II, predominantly African-American college in Ohio, where he played wide receiver and tight end. He caught 41 passes his senior year. But in April 2011 he was arrested for a string of dormitory burglaries.
Like so many promising young athletes, Jones’ career ended badly. And like so many, he has regrets. If he had it all to do over again, he said, he would have chosen a smaller college instead of Notre Dame. “I never sat down and thought what’s best for Demetrius,” he said. He continued: “I don’t have any bad blood with the school…,” he said. “It’s just what happened to me. It is what it is.”
Now he lives in a townhouse in Merrillville, works for the Pop Warner football league there, and volunteers as a basketball and football coach at Merrillville Middle School. He says his involvement with the team happened by chance. “I went to a game and they announced that they needed someone for the chain gang (to measure first downs).” Soon he was volunteering as a coach.
Though he still gets angry at times talking about Weis, and about the entire system of recruiting, he insists there are no hard feelings. Jones said he finds it ironic that Golson, a dual threat quarterback who plays in much the same way he once did, will lead the Notre Dame into the national championship game against the University of Alabama Crimson Tide.
“I’m rooting for the kid,” he said. “I wanna see him win. He’s the first black quarterback to take a snap since I did back in 2007.”
He sounds like a wise old man when he talks about Golson, but Jones is still young and fit and still hopes to play the game professionally. He says he plans to move back to the Chicago area soon—to be closer to his family and to join the Slaughter, the professional indoor football team coached by former Chicago Bear Steve McMichael, when their season begins in February.
An official for the Slaughter said the team sent Jones a contract but he has not yet signed and returned it.