Soul's Jones using NFL past to help AFL present

Soul's Jones using NFL past to help AFL present
June 27, 2013, 12:00 pm
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The Eagles signed Tiger Jones in July 2012, but released the wide receiver a month later. (USA Today Images)

Anthony “Tiger” Jones made the ultimate sacrifice.

He chased his dream, and put his reality on hold.

The dream: Playing in the NFL.

Jones’ reality: Help the Soul win an AFL championship.

He had to choose. Jones couldn’t do both.

The decision was easy, so Jones made it. He gave up on the AFL season last year in pursuit of his NFL dream.

“Gave up is a strong word,” Jones said.

The word sacrifice was then replaced. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s better.”

Jones did have a point.

When the Eagles called him last year to join their preseason roster, Jones sacrificed the remainder of his AFL season.

Jones’ 133 receptions, 2,010 yards and 47 touchdowns -- a footnote. After the Eagles signed him in July 2012, helping a 15-3 Soul team, who advanced to ArenaBowl XXV, was a no-go.

You see, Jones had to relinquish the remainder of his 2012 season to avoid any injury; hence, all the star wide receiver could do was watch from afar. But it was all worth it.

Jones was able to wear an NFL uniform. He was given a chance to pursue his dream, so the decision to leave the AFL was a no-brainer.

“I mean, I don’t regret what I did,” said Jones, recalling his brief NFL stint. “Everybody here, organization-wise, was behind me 100 percent and wanted me to go and do my thing.”

Though the decision to leave was a simple one, it still was a difficult one.

“It was definitely a catch-22, though. We put in a lot of work last year to get where we got, and at the end of the season, you want to finish it out,” Jones said. “To not be there, obviously I felt a certain type of way about it, but an opportunity like that, with the Eagles, you can’t pass up.”

Jones’ stay in an NFL locker room didn’t last long. He recorded two receptions for 10 yards in the 24-23 preseason win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in August. Later that month, he was handed his walking papers.

Listen to Jones recall his NFL experience, you get the sense he wasn’t surprised by his release.

Listen long enough, and he basically confirmed it. His reason: “The cast that they had at receiver, none of those guys aren’t going anywhere. (Jeremy) Maclin is not going anywhere. (DeSean) Jackson is not going anywhere. (Jason) Avant is not going anywhere. So, when you only have five spots available and most of those spots already secure … it’s tough.”

But his stay wasn’t wasted. Jones saw first-hand what being on an NFL team is like, which he said isn’t all that different from his current AFL team. He felt what many attempt to feel but never get the chance to -- playing in an NFL game. His name stitched on the back, NFL logo on the front.

While with the Eagles, Jones saw a little of himself in Avant, who he credited for helping him make the transition.

“He’s not afraid to take a guy and try to show him,” Jones said. “Sometimes you get veteran guys and they just want to do what they do. A young guy or new guy comes in; they really don’t want to talk to him.

“But Avant will take you and talk to you. He’ll show you [how to run a route better]. He’ll just give you tips and pointers.”

Funny how it all works. Jones is playing that same leadership role, the mentor role, right now for the 2013 version of the Soul.

Soul rookie wide receiver Ryan McDaniel is the Tiger Jones on the Eagles, while Jones is playing the role of Avant -- he’s helping McDaniel make the jump. Giving him pointers and tips.

Whatever Jones is teaching, McDaniel is certainly learning and executing on the field. McDaniel is second on the Soul with 748 receiving yards (Jones is first with 1,656) and third on the team in receptions with 58.

“He’s been a real good friend,” a surprised McDaniel said.

Asked if he was shocked that Jones reached out to help, McDaniel admitted he was. “I didn’t think (Jones) would take me in like [he] did when I came into camp. … He’s been very helpful throughout the whole season. It’s not one time that he’s gave me an attitude because I’ve asked a question. He’s a real good guy.”

McDaniel’s last sentence sums up what the Soul thinks of Tiger Jones. Head coach Clint Dolezel and quarterback Dan Raudabaugh included.

Jones was smiling as he recalled his time with the Eagles, blocking out the fact that he was laying on the trainers table getting treatment.

Right now, Jones is giving it all he’s got. He wants a chance to redeem that sacrifice he made last season. Right now, he’s focused on helping the Soul get back to and win the ArenaBowl.

As for the NFL, “If it happens again, then it happens again,” Jones said.

But what if the recently turned 31-year-old gets another phone call, this time from Chip Kelly, inviting him to another Eagles training camp -- what then? Does Jones make another sacrifice and depart the Soul one more time? Does he stay?

He was asked those questions and responded, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

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