Adrian Jones doesn’t know what it feels like to walk out of the visitors’ locker room with his team at N.C. Central. He’s used to standing on the sideline at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium, but not the sideline opposite the Eagles.
Jones is used to winning games – and championships – in Durham. He coached Southern Durham High School to the 3AA football championship in 2013 and was on the N.C. Central staff for four conference titles, most recently in 2014 and 2015, when the Eagles won consecutive MEAC championships.
Jones, in his second year as the head football coach at Shaw, played at N.C. Central from 1994-97 and is among the school’s career leaders in passes defended (41) and interceptions (10). Jones grew up in Durham (and attended Southern Durham) and both of his parents and two of his siblings also earned their degrees from N.C. Central.
Those deep ties are what make his game against the Eagles on Saturday so hard.
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“It’s excitement and nervous (energy) all boiled up in one,” Jones said. “I’m excited to go back home. I’m excited to showcase what Shaw University is trying to be about. Just happy to go back home and be able to play a great team like North Carolina Central.”
When Jones took the job at Shaw in March 2016, there was no question he was going to add N.C. Central to the Bears’ schedule. Saturday’s game will be the first meeting between the two teams since 2006.
For Jones, there have been a lot of emotions this week. He said his brain is “tired” trying to balance the calls from well-wishers while preparing his team for the game against N.C. Central, which has gone 5-0 against the CIAA since 2011.
Jones is also dealing with the emotions that come with going head-to-head with a coaching staff full of his friends. Eagles’ head coach Jerry Mack hired Jones in 2014, his second stint at N.C. Central. (Jones was also on Rod Broadway’s staff as a defensive assistant when the Eagles won back-to-back CIAA titles in 2005 and 2006.) One of the main things Mack likes about Jones is that he is an alum who cared about the university.
“He was passionate, he cared about the kids,” Mack said. “He wanted to see us become as successful as possible, and he did a great job his two years working with us. He did a great job recruiting quality young men.”
As the running backs coach at N.C. Central, Jones recruited and coached junior running back Dorrel McClain, who was the MEAC Rookie of The Year in 2015. He also recruited senior wide receiver David Miller, junior center Steven Perry, both starters, and junior safety Jaquell Taylor, who has appeared in 18 games. His relationship with those players and their families didn’t waver when he left the school.
“In the offseason we talk on the phone, just to check on them and see how they are doing,” Jones said. “I talk to the parents and everything. At the end of the day, end of the game we’re all family.”
We’ll shake hands, hug and talk about the old times, but when the whistle blows it’s showtime and we have to do what we have to do on our side of the ball.
Shaw coach Adrian Jones
Being family also means you can come home whenever you want. N.C. Central junior safety Davanta Reynolds said it wasn’t unusual to look up during workouts this summer and see Jones, who had stopped by to say hello to his former players and coworkers.
Mack said he would see Jones on campus whenever Shaw had some down time. Jones was casually walking around the building during N.C. Central’s NFL Pro Day last March, greeted by some friendly trash talk from Eagles’ defensive line coach Jon Bradley and defensive backs coach Kenyatta McCoy. Jones and Mack spoke on the phone last week, but have stopped communicating as the game nears.
“Now it’s crunch time,” Jones said. “We’ll shake hands, hug and talk about the old times, but when the whistle blows it’s showtime, and we have to do what we have to do on our side of the ball.”
The coaching staffs and their families are still close, sometimes going out to dinner together. When the Eagles took on Grambling in The Celebration Bowl in December, Jones was in the stands rooting for his alma mater, and pulling for a coaching staff he was once a part of.
Mack said Jones is still an Eagle no matter what, which puts even more pressure on Jones to have a good showing when the teams play.
“You want to look good when you go home,” Jones said. “Those guys over there, we care about them a lot, but at the end of the day I know Coach Mack wants to beat me. Just because he cares about me doesn’t mean he’s going to call the dogs off.”
When he arrives at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium and has to walk to the field from the visitor locker room instead of the home locker room, there will be some emotions. Jones expects itbut has to find a way to mask it from his players.
“My players say I have a sensitive side,” Jones said. “When I get out there I will dap up the coaches, hug some of my (former) players. Going on the field where champions are built is going to really be an emotional roller coaster for me. I am the head coach and my kids feed off their head coach, so I can’t show too much emotion. I have to be that captain and make sure they feed off me in a good way.”
Shaw at N.C. Central
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium, Durham
Radio: NCCU Sports Network