Dwight Jones’s long, challenging journey has taken him from the highs of three state championships to the lows of a team suspension, from Burlington Cummings High School to Hargraves Military Academy to Valdosta, Ga., to the University of North Carolina.
Tuesday, it brought him to East Chapel Hill High School.
Shortly after his former University of North Carolina teammates finished their "pro day" at UNC’s practice facility, Jones arrived Tuesday afternoon at Wildcat Stadium, where about 200 East Chapel Hill students waited to watch him work out for NFL scouts.
East Chapel Hill teacher and football coach Bill Renner had arranged for students to watch Jones’s workouts as part of an "in-school field trip."
"It’s a chance for our sports marketing classes to talk with an agent, and for out football players to talk with Dwight," Renner said. "It’s a quick version of having a guest speaker for a class, and we wanted to take advantage of that."
One of the best players ever from the history-rich program at Burlington Cummings, Jones had an excellent senior year at Carolina, with 1,196 receiving yards.
But Jones was banned from UNC’s pro day for his involvement in a New Year’s Eve party in his hometown. Fliers for the “1st Annual Dwight Jones New Years Birthday Celebration,” promised free admission to the “first 24 ladies” at the door and “24 free shots every hour on the hour.”
Carolina, sensitized in the midst of an NCAA investigation into its football program, declared Jones ineligible for last December’s Independence Bowl for allowing use of his name for party’s promotion.
After negotiating with the NCAA, and securing a promise that the party would be canceled, Carolina re-instated Jones for the bowl game. Jones caught six passes for 77 yards and a touchdown in the 41-24 loss to Missouri.
Almost immediately after the bowl game, the flier was re-posted on Jones’s Facebook page.
Jones said Tuesday he did not attend the party, but new athletics director Bubba Cunningham and first-year football coach Larry Fedora still decided that Jones wasn’t welcome at pro day. It was because of a breach of trust, they said.
So, Jones made arrangements to work out independently, off UNC’s campus, for any NFL scout who would drive the 15 minutes over to East Chapel Hill.
Much like Jones’s last game, his individual pro day was on, off and on again. Agents would be there. No, they wouldn’t. Yes, maybe. It hadn’t helped things that someone had prepared an agenda of all UNC players who would work out Tuesday and had mis-listed Jones’s time by 30 minutes.
Sitting on aluminum bleachers under an unseasonably warm afternoon sun, the students fidgeted and chatted and watched as Jones waited.
Jones’s aunt was there as well, as were two if his coaches from Hargrave Military Academy, where he went for a post-prep semester to improve his academic standing. He later went to Valdosta State, working to improve his transcript to the level needed to get into UNC.
"That was one of the worst times of my life," Jones said. "I’ve been through so many ups and downs all throughout my career. It really has been a roller coaster. I’m glad my coaches from Hargrave are here to support me."
Eric Armstead, agent for both Jones and Kansas State 2011 quarterback Sammuel Lamur, arranged for both seniors to be at East on Tuesday, and they killed time by running pass patterns in front of the appreciative students, who applauded when he caught a deep throw over his shoulder.
"Coach Renner explained it all to us, how he was doing this in hopes of improving his draft status for the NFL," said East Chapel Hill student body president Matt Jones, who waited along side his classmates. "I didn’t have a lot of expectations, so I wasn’t disappointed. I thought the whole thing was interesting."
After waiting for about an hour, most of the students present had to leave for their next class. Then, finally, Nick Schiralli, an area scout of the Denver Broncos showed up at Wildcat Stadium.
He measured off 40 yards and timed Jones repeated over the distance, then had him run a zig-zag shuttle routine and a few, truncated pass patterns to check his agility.
Students lining the stadium’s railing watched Jones run the 40 in 4.57 seconds over East’s natural grass – close to the 4.55 he ran on artificial turf at last month’s NFL Scouting Combine. Armstead said he clocked him at 4.47 seconds. East athletics director Ray Hartsfield, who kept his own time on Jones but didn’t reveal, just whistled and said, "Man, he’s fast."
And then it over.
For the handful of the students who remained, it may have proved to be more illustrative of the banality of practices than the excitement of pro football.
Jones didn’t care.
"Even to have one scout here was a blessing," Jones said. "It wasn’t all about showcasing my talents or abilities today. Just having an opportunity to show the kids how hard work can pay off was good enough for me."