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Jones went from LHS band to grid success

A funny thing happened to Byron Jones on his way to mastering the trombone.

He discovered football, and wound up playing professionally.

A 1965 graduate of Lawton High School, Jones is now chief operating officer of Tutor in a Backpack, a program that helps elementary and secondary students focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

His focus was elsewhere in 1962 when he was a freshman at Central Junior High. He and friend Eddie Hinton were members of the CJHS band until Jones decided to give athletics a try.

Jones played tackle, tight end and linebacker at LHS, Cameron Junior College and West Texas State before being drafted by the New York Giants. He played for their Atlantic Coast Football League team on Long Island.

Hinton went from LHS to the University of Oklahoma, then played six years in the National Football League with Baltimore, Houston and New England.

Jones said a recent conversation with Hinton went like this:

"He said: 'Byron, let me tell you why I started my career in football'.

"And I said: 'why'?"

"And he said: 'because we were both in the band and I came one day for practice and I said: 'hey, where's Byron'? And they said: 'he went out for football'.

"And Eddie said: 'if he went out for football, I'm going out for football'.

"Eddie will tell you that's why he started playing football. He ended up being a super star."

Jones didn't make it to the NFL, but the game served a purpose.

"I learned lifetime lessons playing football, so it was good for me," he said.

He was a reserve on the 1963 LHS team that won State. The Wolverines finished 6-3-1 in '64.

"Eddie Hinton was our offense and Keith Lavender led the defense," Jones said of Oklahoma's 1963 defensive lineman of the year. "Names I still remember were Bobby Booth, Gene, Ashley and Fielding Cagle, Dusty Torbert, Johnny Lampkin and Rodney Holloway. Benny Wiggins and Chuck Large were in the Class of '65.

"Freddy Bass was the fastest pitcher that I faced in elementary school," Jones recalled. "I recently spoke with Robert Wooten, who was a year behind Eddie and me and went to OU on a basketball scholarship. He was visiting with Eddie at his home in Spring Branch, Texas."

Jones also was a reserve on the '65 LHS basketball team that reached the State finals, and he was runner-up in the discus at the 1965 State track meet.

"That was my only individual claim to fame," he laughed.

Jones won the Regional with a toss of 148 feet, 4 inches. He improved to 149-5 at State, but lost to Mike Myers of Enid.

"I bloomed late," Jones said. "When I was in high school, I was about 6-3 but weighed 190 to 205 max. By the time I got to the Giants, I was maybe 215. They said: 'you're too small. We're going to have you eat several times a day'.

"So all of a sudden, at West Texas I got up to about 255, which was too heavy because it was all fat at that time. I dropped back down to about 220 when I played.

"By today's standards, that's not even a big running back."

Jones arrived at Cameron one year after the Aggies played in the Junior Rose Bowl at Pasadena."I enjoyed two good years with Coach Bear Jensen," he said. "I finished fifth in the National Junior College Track Meet in Hutchinson Kan., in the discus."

Cameron football finished 7-2 both years. Jones caught one pass for eight yards in 1965 and two for 18 in '66. He started at left tackle as a freshman.

"A.Z. Drones, an offensive tackle, and I then went to West Texas State University in Canyon, Texas, where we played with Eugene (Mercury) Morris and Duane Thomas," Jones said. "I was the tight end and weak side linebacker."

The Buffs didn't pass much. Morris was the NCAA's No. 2 rusher in 1967.

"My senior year, I caught five passes  all for touchdowns," Jones laughed. "When they were looking for Merc to run outside or Duane Thomas to run through the middle, they had a play called 42. That's where I took an outside release, then went back to the inside and they dumped a pass to me and I was in the end zone for a touchdown before they knew it."

Jones missed the Junior Rose Bowl trip with Cameron, but he played in the Pasadena classic in 1967.

"It was Dec. 2," Jones said. "When I got out to West Texas State, they finally started selecting four-year schools."

They also changed the name to the Pasadena Bowl.

"We won the game against San Fernando Valley State, 35-13," Jones said. "Our starting middle linebacker was hurt, so I played both ways that day. Can't remember the number of tackles, but it was double digit!"

Jones was named to the Outstanding Athletes of America in 1969 and was drafted as a middle linebacker by the New York Giants.

"Our No. 1 pick and superstar was Fred Dryer of San Diego State," Jones said. "He ended up starring for the LA Rams.

"Before NFL Europe, they had the Atlantic Coast Football League. I wound up playing for the Long Island Bulls. All the teams had farm teams and the coaches and players from the Giants were our coaches. Andy Robustelli, Y.A.Tittle ñ all those guys were our coaches."

The ACFB was in existence from 1962 until 1973. A total of 48 teams participated, but not all at once.

"We played a full schedule," Jones said, "but by my second year, I said: 'you know, this is not for me. I'm going to go ahead and go into the working world'."

He secured a position with Xerox and spent 26 years with the firm. He started in sales and advanced to sales manager and to running programs across the country in field management training.

"Basically, I started in Columbus, Ohio, then moved here to the Washington area," said Jones, who now lives in Leesburg, Va. He was sales manager in northern Virginia and Richmond before reaching a crossroads.

"I said: 'I don't want to go to Rochester' because that's where you had to go to kinda prove yourself to be a vice president, or want to be vice president," Jones said.

"So I said: 'I'm just going to stay here', so I ended my career there at their school."

The next stop was as an educator.

"The last few years, my partner and I have been developing a way to foster STEM learning so that today's learners will be able to compete here in the States as well as globally," Jones said. "The latest data says that we are 25th in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading. That won't get it. If we can play a small part in driving those numbers down, then we'll have played a vital role."

Anyone interested in learning more about the program may contact Jones at bjonestutorbackpack.com

Byron also proudly notes that he and Shirley Willis Jones just celebrated their 46th wedding anniversary.

"I met my wife the summer that I graduated from LHS," he said. "She played basketball for Hobart High School."

The couple has five children. The eldest, Kim, died of a heart attack in February. 

"My two grandsons now live with us," Jones said. "The oldest graduates this month from one of the local high schools. The other will be a freshman this fall."

Ayanna (Jones) VanDaele also has two children. Byron Jr. lives with his wife (Cintia Barba-Raillo) in Seville, Spain, and works with his father-in-law in a family business. Alexis (Jones) Tropea lives in Leesburg and is in nursing school. Devon is a personal trainer for the largest club in the Washington D.C. area.

"He trains many clients from high school athletes, individual clients including Congressmen and business owners," Byron said.

Just a chip off the old block

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