Sept. 1, 2010
Spartan All-America linebacker Greg Jones visited his hometown of Cincinnati in the summer to speak at the Boys and Girls Club in the Avondale neighborhood. He also took time to catch up with friends and family before the start of the football season and gave a tour of his most memorable places in his hometown. In the first of a three-part series on msuspartans.com, Jones begins the day at his house and talks about his childhood, the importance of family, and why he wanted to speak at the Boys and Girls Club.
Greg Jones stands on the field where he first played football beginning at the age of 8.
The story of Greg Jones' football career begins at the corner of Rockdale and Harvey Avenues in the Avondale neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio.
After bringing home a flyer to his mother, Beverly, promoting tryouts for the neighborhood team, the Avondale Warriors - and ultimately convincing her - he learned the game of football on this modest playground field starting at 8 years old.
"At first I didn't want him to play, but I thought, if this is what he wanted to do, it must be right," Beverly said.
Jones made sure of his opportunity. In his first-ever game, he was an instant star, recording seven sacks.
"I'll never forget that game for as long as I live," said Jones' father, Greg, laughing.
But although he found instant success playing football, Beverly and Greg Sr. didn't want that to define their son. They wanted that to be his character. Along the lengthy road of learning values, friendship, and the importance of education, Greg found a place early in his life that provided him lessons and guidance throughout his childhood.
Across the street from the football field, just a block away, is the U.S. Bank Boys and Girls Club of Avondale, a center that truly made an impact on Greg. He spent countless hours on the dusty fields and basketball courts on the outside, and even more inside the walls playing games with his friends. Beverly and Greg Sr. credit the Boys and Girls Club for providing the vehicle for Greg to showcase his multiple talents.
"It's the place where I grew up," Greg said.
And he has never forgotten.
Despite all his success as an All-American linebacker at Michigan State on the football field, Jones is grounded, and he knows where those roots were born - in his hometown of Cincinnati, with the love of his parents, family, friends and coaches. It's why he took a break from his intensely busy summer workout schedule and came back home on a late, muggy July afternoon before preseason camp started to speak at the club.
"I had been thinking about it for a long time, probably going back all the way to my sophomore year," said Jones. "I just wanted to kick it with the kids for a little bit and have fun. I just felt like it was important to go back and let people know I didn't forget where I came from."
A collection of photos Greg's father put together for his visit to the Boys and Girls Club.
Before the highlight of the day at the Boys and Girls Club, Jones took time to reflect on his childhood and family, going around the Queen City and pointing out the places that meant the most to him.
The daylong journey began at his house on the northwest side of town. He moved here in ninth grade after living in the Colerain Township in Cincinnati for a couple of years, and before that, he spent his early youth in the Bond Hill neighborhood. It's not hard to spot the Jones' residence. A Michigan State flag waves proudly beside the front door, a "Spartans Street" sign hangs over the deck, there are multiple bumper stickers on the cars, and maybe most impressively, one of the outdoor floodlights is tinted green to match the natural white.
Inside the Jones' living room, Greg Sr. gathered photos, articles and trophies for the presentation at the Boys and Girls Club. He proudly displayed a retrospective of his son's first 21 years on three poster boards, a wide-ranging gallery of Greg's first football and t-ball games, father and son playing catch, basketball team photos, high school accomplishments, and right on to his time of becoming a star at Michigan State.
His wide-ranging collection of Greg's awards is not limited to just middle school and high school - Greg regularly gives his father keepsakes from Michigan State, including his bowl ring from the 2008 season, a bowl watch, and a glass-encased football honoring his All-America recognition. On Father's Day this past June, Greg Sr. came to visit his son in East Lansing, and the following day he was able to see Greg's All-America plaque put up in the Skandalaris Football Center.
It's obvious the relationship between Greg and his father is a special one.
"I probably do it because I remember all the times growing up where I would beg him for a football or a basketball, or gloves or cleats, just equipment in general," said Greg. "So when you get something that looks nice and shiny, I want him to wear it. I want him to enjoy it because he worked for that too, and so did my mom. I feel like it's important for them to have that. It's all of our hard work paying off, it's not just me."
"I just felt like it was important to go back and let people know I didn't forget where I came from."
Growing up, Greg's father worked multiple jobs all throughout the day and wasn't home as much as he would've liked. But one night they always had together was Monday, when the two would watch Monday Night Football every week.
"It was a special feeling for me, even though I was so busy, to take time and spend Monday nights watching football with him," Greg Sr. recalled, sitting on his couch, looking at all of the photos.
Before heading out to Avondale, he shared a few more thoughts on his son's day.
"It's exciting to go back where Greg came from as a kid," he said. "The experiences he had there have carried him for the rest of his life. I think it's great for him, the kids and the city to do this program."
As his father drives off one way, Greg goes the other, heading toward downtown. But first, he's adamant about going by his church. All day, he's quick to point out the places that mean the most to him.
"This was another place I grew up, and I still come here," he said. "Faith means a lot to me, especially when you're going through some tough times and you have that belief in something else that's bigger than you. It helps out a lot."
Passing some basketball courts, Greg talked about constantly hooping on the playground growing up. At one particular court in town, Greg struck up a friendly rivalry with current Ohio State wide receiver DeVier Posey - who also happens to be Greg's cousin. Not that the two knew it at the time. It wasn't until a family cookout where Greg noticed Posey and put the pieces together.
"I came in, and he was right there," said Jones. "Growing up with him, I feel like he's a brother. His older brother, Julian, plays corner at Ohio U. All three of us talk a lot."
Upon reaching downtown, Greg pointed toward an office building that had the lights reading "C-I-N-C-I-N-N-A-T-I."
"There's definitely a sense of hometown pride here," he said. "I always have a Cincinnati Reds cap wherever I go."
Walking around Fountain Square in the center of downtown, Greg gazed up and glanced around at the city. He spoke fondly about the Reds and the "Big Red Machine" with the Great American Ballpark in the distance. Not only are they his hometown team, he went to the same high school - Archbishop Moeller - that produced Reds' all-stars Barry Larkin and Ken Griffey Jr.
Greg then rattled off some of his favorite places to dine in Cincinnati, but there's no time to eat. His appearance at the Boys and Girls Club was coming up soon, and he wanted to get there early. This was the whole reason for his trip home.
Part two of this three-part series on Greg Jones will run on Thursday, Sept. 2 on www.msuspartans.com.
Written by Ben Phlegar, MSU Athletic Communications