TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Joe Jones jumped onto Buccaneers fans’ radar last Saturday, returning an interception for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the preseason game against the Bengals. It was his first-ever interception and first touchdown since high school.
“As I was going through it, yes (it was a blur),” Jones said, recapping his pick-six. “I think it kind of came into reality once I had the ball in my hands and I was five yards away from the endzone. It was absolutely insane. A very, very surreal moment for me.”
That play also caught the attention of his coaches, as the undrafted linebacker out of Northwestern is fighting for a roster spot with the defending Super Bowl champions. He knows splash plays like that can make all the difference.
“For me, I know a lot of it right now being where I am depth-wise, special teams is a very, very key thing,” Jones said. “That’s what I feel like I was brought here to do anyway. But being able to make plays on defense as well, to just get that extra push to get them to keep me here, it means a lot. I was definitely praying for something to happen. My faith is a big, big part of who I am and what I do. I got that punt tackle the very first special teams rep (and) was happy with that. I was like ‘Lord if something else comes my way I’ll definitely take it.’ And He definitely answered my prayers there and gave me a pick-six.”
Now entering his fifth season in the NFL and first with the Bucs, Jones didn’t always have his sights set on this career path.
“Even coming to the NFL, I had my kid right before finishing my fifth year of school and I was like, ‘Do I get a regular job? Do I pursue this?’ because I was an undrafted guy,” Jones shared. “I knew I wasn’t going to get drafted. I didn’t know my likelihood of actually making it, and both my wife and my mother encouraged me to continue to push through and try it out. So I have to thank both of them for this.”
Along the way in college, Jones had several jobs to help pay the bills — including flower deliverer.
“My fourth and fifth year I didn’t have as many classes and needed to make some extra money—again, I was getting ready to have a kid,” Jones explained. “My wife was done with school so she was working at Starbucks my fifth year. I needed some extra cash and was getting as many odd-end jobs as I possibly could. Flower delivery was something I happened to find. I don’t even remember how I found it. But it was a local business I decided to deliver flowers for, as well as coach some baseball, train some kids in the gym.”
But if you want to go even further back than that, Jones wouldn’t even be playing football at all if his mom hadn’t “forced him” to play.
“She doesn’t like that I used the word ‘forced’ (in the post-game interview),” Jones said smiling. “She says ‘strongly encouraged.’ But the whole thing was I said ‘no’ and she said ‘well yeah, you’re going to.’ So you guys can interpret that as you will.”
“I had zero interest in football growing up,” Jones continued. “Eighth grade came around and she thought I was athletic enough, big enough, fast enough, strong enough to play and I was like ‘eh, I’m good.’ We would have Super Bowl parties at my house or watch games at my house and I’d go upstairs in my room and watch TV, watch anime, play video games rather than watch football. But then I got out there my first day of practice and kind of fell in love with it right there.”
But here we are now, with Jones having four years for professional football under his belt and vying for another chance to keep playing the sport he’s come to love. And maybe he’ll get some flowers of his own if he makes the final roster cuts around the corner.