NASHVILLE – When Titans center Ben Jones entered the NFL with the Texans back in 2012, he worked to establish himself on the football field with veteran players around him.
Jones was also paying attention to his teammates off the field. And he saw how involved many of them were in the Houston community, from Matt Schaub to Owen Daniels to Chris Myers.
"I wanted to be able to raise a family like them," Jones said, "and I wanted to do something to help others with the platform that we have – those guys really opened my eyes."
After spending his first four NFL seasons with the Texans, Jones arrived in Tennessee in 2016, and he got to work. And in 2017, Jones and his wife, Alex, established The Jones Mission to provide at-risk youth with opportunities they might otherwise not have through grants, additional resources and educational opportunities.
In the past three years, Jones has made a big difference – and his work hasn't gone unnoticed.
Jones is the 2019 Titans recipient of the Walter Payton Man of the Year award.
Jones is now a finalist for the league-wide 2019 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award that will be awarded during the upcoming Super Bowl week. This prestigious NFL award has been in existence since 1970 and it honors players who demonstrate outstanding balance in their lives between civic and professional responsibilities. In 1999, the NFL renamed the award after the late Walter Payton as a tribute to his greatness, both on and off the field.
"It is something that is definitely appreciated," Jones said of the award. "But the reason you give back is to help people out and to see the impact you can make on kids, and to see the joy you bring them when you take them to games, bring them to practices, and you are able to help their facilities. It means a lot. I get so much joy by seeing how happy they are and how much they benefit from all the guys on our team that are caring and supporting our foundation."
During each of the past three offseasons, Jones and his wife have hosted the annual Ben Jones Celebrity Clay Shoot, a skeet shooting tournament, to raise money for local youth-serving non-profit organizations. The three events combined have raised more than $400,000 benefitting The Jones Mission Fund.
Through The Jones Mission Fund, Jones said they've been able to serve more kids each year in after-school programs. As a result of the 2019 clay shoot, The Jones Mission was able to donate $40,000 to Endure Athletics and $45,000 to Preston Taylor Ministries. With their grant, Preston Taylor Ministries was able to open a new location for after school programs.
"We've done counselors for homeless kids who are in after-school programs," Jones said. "We've done things with the church to bring kids and their mentor to a Titans game. If it's from an after-school program, if it's sending them to camps, if it's bringing them to football games, if it's getting them the skill they need outside, a tutor.
"The more time they are able to be around positive role models and getting to have an experience and knowing they can get out of where they are. I want to give kids something to look forward to. I just want to give kids a chance. We're just trying to give a kid that needs a little extra help a shot."
Here's a deeper look at Jones, and his work in the community:
• Ben's childhood adversity – his father was killed in a helicopter crash just a few months after his 10th birthday – planted the seeds of a strong and still-growing passion for helping kids in need, and he strives daily to be a role model and show children experiencing hardship that anything is possible through hard work, determination, and prayer.
• Renovations to the Nashville Ronald McDonald House kitchen and dining room were completed this summer, courtesy of a $88,000 grant from the 2017 clay shoot. The 2017 event also allowed Ben and Alex to expand and remodel the computer lab at Youth Encouragement Services. The computer lab was also unveiled over the summer.
• In 2018, the event raised $33,000 for Endure Athletics, $22,000 for Backfield in Motion and $33,000 for Alive Hospice.
• Every year, Ben sponsors a trip to a Titans game for the seniors on the football team at his high school (Bibb County HS) in Centreville, Alabama. The experience includes round-trip transportation from his hometown, tickets, a private tailgate, swag bags plus a meet-and-greet with Ben and tour of the Titans practice facility after the game.
• Ben also hosts a "Friday Night Lights" free youth football camp in Centreville every June for kids ages 8 through 14.
• The Jones Mission is also very active during the holidays as Ben sponsors Christmas shopping events for families in his hometown in Alabama and locally in Nashville.
• In addition to his work with his own Foundation, Ben is also actively involved in team-organized community events and programs, appearing on behalf of the team at local schools, hospitals, fundraising events, 5K races and more.
Jones credited all the sponsors, and everyone who has supported his events over the years.
And he gave thanks to his wife, Alex.
"She backs it all up," Jones said. "She is the busy bee behind everything, checking every box and making sure it flows right. It wouldn't get done if it wasn't for her."
All 32 nominees will receive a donation of up to $50,000 in their name to their charity of choice. The winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award will receive a $250,000 donation to the charity of their choice. All donations are courtesy of the NFL Foundation and Nationwide.
As a nominee, Jones will wear a Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year helmet decal through the end of the season in recognition of his accomplishments on and off the field.
Jones said because the Titans organization, and locker room, has such a giving culture, it makes the award special for everyone. Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey's was the team's Walter Payton Man of the Year recipient in 2016 and 2018. Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard was the team's recipient in 2017.
"We have multiple guys that are coming to my event, going to other events. It is a family, and you want to support each other," Jones said. "Logan (Ryan) is always there, Jurrell is always there, Delanie (Walker) is always there. So many guys are always there to support me, and we support each other.
"All those guys are just as worthy as me, and they have foundations and are doing everything they can, putting in the extra hours to help the community as well. So many guys are just as worthy. Really, all of us just want to do our part to help and make a difference in the lives of others."
Center Ben Jones is the Titans' 2019 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee. (Photos: Donald Page)