My Heisman vote: Zay Jones

Published 11:17 am Monday, December 5, 2016

I’ve voted on a lot of boards and panels for athletes, but I don’t vote for the Heisman Trophy, and maybe that’s a good thing.

Yep, if I had a ballot for who I’d like to see hoisting that bronze replica, “ol’ Mr. Stiff-Arm”, I know whose name I’d be marking down; and, it would have to be East Carolina University senior receiver Isaiah “Zay” Jones.

Truth, as a matter of fact, Jones is a Heisman finalist. Whether he makes it to New York in his freshly minted Joe Abhoud or Ralph Lauren Classic suit is another matter.  I’m just impressed that he made it on this list at all.

Pirate fans probably don’t want to be reminded, but the kid played for a college team that went 3-9 – losing nine of their last ten games.

But I guess what I like about him is how he represents, to me, what college athletics should be all about.

Yes, many of you may be aware that he comes from ‘football royalty’ in that his dad, Robert Jones, was a 6’3” 240-pound linebacker who played for ECU back in the 90’s and later went on to win the first of three Super Bowl rings his first two years in pro ball with the Dallas Cowboys (thanks in part to a ‘triplet’ of teammates named Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin, and a coach named Jimmy Johnson).

Well, whether his Pops was a Super Bowl hero or just a so-so sandlot player shouldn’t matter.  What should is what the father imparted to the son.

Succeed on your own terms, and do it in the classroom as good as or better than you do it on the football field.

As for the classroom part, well, the College Sports Information Directors Association named him Academic All-America Second-Team on Thursdayafternoon; the second player in ECU history so honored; and this is his third time on an All-Academic list (2014 & 2016).  Jones boasts a 3.56 grade-point-average as a Mass Communications major; garnering Conference USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll accolades as a freshman and is a six-time ECU Director of Athletics Honor Roll member.

On the football field, Jones wrapped up his four-year career in Greenville as the NCAA FBS career (399) and single-season (158) receptions leader, while setting new ECU and American Athletic Conference single-season standards in catches and receiving yards (1,746) on his way to First-Team All-American Athletic Conference accolades as a senior.

Meld academics and athletics together and you find out the Austin, Texas speedster is a finalist for the 2016 William V. Campbell Trophy (one of 12), the National Football Foundation (NFF) & College Hall of Fame, which recognizes an individual as the absolute best football scholar-athlete in the nation. Jones was also named a finalist for the 2016 Senior CLASS Award, honoring the attributes of senior student-athletes in four areas: community, classroom, character and competition.

So if you think I’d be wasting my vote on a kid playing for a losing team, it’s usually best to stand out for whatever team you find yourself playing for.  You get noticed when you demonstrate leadership and condition yourself to ensure your skill level is top-notch.

Keep this in mind: if you’re on a weak team who plays well against tough competition, then this will always have a more positive impact.

The classic TV show “Kung Fu” from the 70s had martial arts expert, Master Po, always saying to his young student, Caine, the advice I’m giving to the realHeisman voters, as well as any young people who aspire to such greatness:  “Choose wisely, Grasshopper.”

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7211.