DAWSON — As Pastor Nancy Wooden speaks to her congregation at New Covenant House of Praise in Sasser, Jatori Jones slouches into the purple chairs on the back row.
He opens his Bible and begins reading the scriptures Wooden is pointing out. Jones listens intently because he knows Wooden’s message is one of encouragement.
For the Terrell County quarterback, his faith, family and his friends are what make him the person and player he is. In this church is where the quarterback draws his strength from God to uplift his teammates as well as emphasize what Terrell County football coach William Huff calls “playing as a family.”
Jones is an encourager, which is why his teammates are proud of his achievements last week in a come-from-behind victory at Schley County. The Greenwave trailed 30-6 at halftime, but went on a furious rally in the second half and upended the Wildcats, 43-30.
Jones rushed for 242 yards on 20 carries, scored four touchdowns and also threw a successful 2-point conversion pass. He also passed for more than 100 yards, finishing with 300-plus yards of total offense. As a cornerback on defense, he registered five tackles and assisted on two.
But when Monday rolled around, nothing had changed for the soft-spoken standout. He was still the same modest player, the same guy who worked so intently to keep his teammates playing at a high level last Friday night. In fact, getting Jones to talk about himself is a challenge. A large part of that is due to the strict discipline of his mother, Priscilla, a single mother raising her four sons. Jatori is the second oldest of the four.
Before the season started, Huff was unsure who would replace Region 1-A Offensive Player of Year and three-year starter Jerkerious Scott at quarterback. That was before Jones’ performance last week.
“Jatori had not had to be out in front before now,” Huff said. “It’s also amazing that he has that ability, which I guess was sort of undercover and not shown before. He has always been quiet and he didn’t have to be the leader until now.”
You won’t get Jones to talk about his performance Friday night. Instead, he said everything he did was for the team.
“Those guys are my brothers,” Jones said. “We play for each other as a team. I prefer to lead by example. You have to pick your team up.”
Jones’ demeanor on the field is one that commands respect. He has paid his dues, playing cornerback and running back during his first three seasons before moving to quarterback this year.
Unlike some quarterbacks who scream and yell to encourage their teammates, you will never see that from Jones.
“No matter how much you’re down, you still have to play,” he said. “Screaming and yelling is not going to make the situation any better. You have to show them.”
In the fieldhouse Monday, Huff showed a clip of Jones scoring on a quarterback keeper to give the Greenwave the lead for good in last week’s game. Following several lead blockers, Jones ran to his right, then when he met a defender near the goal line, he dove into the corner of the endzone for a touchdown.
Jones got up, pumped his fist twice, then headed back to the sidelines without saying anything else.
“That’s the most I’ve seen out of him in three years of coaching him,” Huff said.
His close friend, wide receiver Joseph Ward, said he saw a side of Jones he thought he’d never see.
“It was like something came out of him,” Ward said smiling. “I had never seen that. He wanted us to win badly.”
Huff knows the emphasis Jones places on winning as a family. He knows Jones won’t be vocal, but the passion the senior has to keep his team encouraged is unmatched.
“I’ve always looked for seniors to step up and be leaders,” Huff said. “He knows the routine. Jatori has never been vocal, but he’ll always do what you ask him to do. In that aspect, he leads by example. I heard him Friday be an encourager. He encouraged his teammates and never got down.”
Kind of like the message Wooden spoke to her congregation a few weeks ago.