Sports Spectrum Magazine Summer 2021

Titans center Ben Jones prays, walks field barefoot before games — even in snow

Prior to every football game he’s played since his sophomore year of high school, Ben Jones walks the field in bare feet. Growing up in Alabama and playing college football at Georgia, warm weather was in the forecast for the vast majority of his games.

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Jones was a fourth-round selection by the Houston Texans in 2012, and he’s now a center for the Tennessee Titans. The weather for many of his games is still mostly pleasant, but snow on the ground won’t stop him. It didn’t Sunday night, when he walked around Lambeau Field in Green Bay without shoes prior to the Titans’ game against the Packers. The 40-14 loss probably stung more than the frigid snow.

Also part of Jones’ pregame routine is prayer.

The ritual started in high school, when Jones was a sophomore center and his older brother, Clay, was a quarterback.

“My brother came and woke me up. I was a sophomore and he’s like, ‘Hey we gotta go walk the field,'” Jones told ESPN in 2015. “I was a center and he was a quarterback. He was really superstitious. I was like, ‘All right let me go get my shoes.’ He was like, ‘No we ain’t got time for that.’ That’s how it started. It just carried on.”

Later that day, their team collected a big win.

“We were playing a big school and we won. We hadn’t beat them in like 10 years,” Jones told ESPN. “After that we kept everything the same. We ate at the same restaurant every Friday morning. We kept everything the same that whole year. Every year from then on we kind of did the same thing.”

Now it has continued in the NFL, where Jones is in his ninth season. After four years with the Texans, Jones signed as a free agent with Tennessee in 2016. He’s only missed one game in five years with the Titans, and he’s started every game he’s played.

In 2019, Jones was named the Titans nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which annually recognizes an NFL player for outstanding community service activities off the field, as well as excellence on the field. Jones was honored for his work with The Jones Mission, the foundation he and his wife, Alex, established in 2017. They provide at-risk youth with opportunities they might otherwise not have through grants, additional resources and educational opportunities.

“It’s incredibly important to me to help kids in need and to show them that anything is possible through hard work, determination and prayer,” Jones said last year. “I have been fortunate that my foundation has been able to impact the lives of kids in Nashville and Alabama.”

Earlier in 2020, Jones and his wife recorded a podcast with their church, Cross Point in Nashville, and echoed that sentiment. Jones said he wants to have an impact on youth because he remembers looking up to Christian professional athletes when he was a kid.

“I’m really trying to have an impact on the youth in this town and my hometown really, because growing up I know I looked up to professional athletes who had a strong Christian faith,” he said. “I remember seeing Shaun Alexander come speak at my high school. I was like, ‘Wow, this is special.’ So I wanted to have that impact on young kids’ lives also.”

Finding a church was one of the first things Ben and Alex did upon arriving in Nashville. They had recently attended a Pro Athletes Outreach conference, through which they met with dozens of other Christ-following couples in the NFL, and they sought similar community in their new hometown.

“When we got here [finding a church] was our main focus,” Ben said on the podcast. “So we came straight from PAO, the outreach conference for the NFL, so that was the first thing. We got here in April, we wanted to find a house and a church. We had no kids, but this is the way we want to build our family — around people we want to spend our time with. So I think we went to one other church before we found Cross Point.”

In the podcast, the Joneses also discussed the strong group of believers on the Titans. The fellowship has helped them in their marriage and also their personal walks with Christ.

Ben’s journey began with his family growing up. Soon after his 10th birthday, his father died in a helicopter crash. His dad wore No. 60 while playing high school football, so now Ben does too.

Not long after his father’s death, Ben was accidentally struck in the head with a baseball bat. He developed blood clots and ended up in the intensive care unit for multiple days. He subsequently had to wear a baseball helmet to school for a year, and still has screws in his head.

Then, during his junior year of high school, one of Jones’ friends died in a four-wheeler accident. All the trials caused Jones to question his faith.

“I just didn’t understand,” he told the Tennessean in 2016. “Why is this all getting taken from me at such a young age? But stuff happens and at some point you realize, ‘Hey, there’s more in life like this.’ So you have to grow up early.”

Jones was aided by his mother, who remained a rock for him.

“Everything is a learning point and you reach out to different people,” Jones told the Tennessean. “But my mom, really, she never cracked. Just seeing a God-fearing woman like her showed us an example every day on how to live that Christian life.”

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