NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Titans center Ben Jones was just 10 years old when he lost his father in a tragic helicopter accident.
When he looks back at his childhood, Jones can't help but think of those who stepped up in his father's absence, from family members to friends in his community.
The experience is one of the big reasons Jones and his wife, Alex, have taken on a bigger role in giving back to the Nashville community, and those in need. On Friday, Jones is hosting his second annual Ben Jones Celebrity Clay Shoot benefiting area nonprofits dedicated to enriching the lives of at-risk children. A year ago the event raised roughly $93,000.
"It is not a perfect life for anybody," Jones said. "I know I had my struggles growing up through injuries and losing my father, and I had people step in and help me, and they were great role models for me. The least I can do is help other people, especially kids.
"I have this opportunity and I want to be able to give back to this community, and being able to do what I do and what I love, to be able to help kids and families that are having hard times, I'm happy we are just able to do it."
Jones, set to begin his third season with the Titans after playing his first four seasons in Houston, expects roughly 28 of his teammates to be on hand. This year's event will benefit Alive Grief Support, Backfield in Motion, Endure Athletics and the Sports Fund. Last year's event benefited the Ronald McDonald House.
Ben and Alex Jones picked those benefactors for a reason. All of them focus on helping those in need, especially at-risk children.
A forester, Steve Jones was aboard a helicopter inspecting timber for insect damage when his helicopter went down not far from his home. The crash killed Jones and the pilot.
Ben Jones said friends in the community of Brent, Ala., rallied behind him and his family. A foundation was started back then to benefit kids in youth sports. It made a lasting impact on him.
"Each (benefactor) is different," Jones said. "I lost my dad at 10, so that is why we picked the grief counseling, to give kids who have lost a loved one, a grandparent, a mom or dad, or brother, support. It sends them to camps to show them how to deal with that. I dealt with mine through sports. That was the way I consoled myself, and kept me from thinking about it. Not everybody has that, and it gives those kids a way to cope with it."
Endure Athletics provides homeless children and youth "a fee-free, safe, structured, and encouraging environment to participate in fitness, athletics, literacy, and Christ centered mentorship."
Backfield in Motion is a nonprofit organization that "focuses on education through mastery of literacy and numeracy skills that lead to a high school diploma, a foundation for higher education, and the on-the-job skills needed to enter the world of work, while using athletics as an incentive for academic improvement."
The Sports Fund "is a charitable effort dedicated to helping ensure Middle Tennessee area children have access to the opportunities sports and team membership provide – ultimately, helping them succeed in school and in life."
So why the Clay Shoot?
Well, his background played a big role in that decision, too.
"We chose something that I grew up doing and had a passion for, and it doesn't matter if you've ever shot a gun before or if you shoot regularly," Jones said. "Anybody can come out and do it and have a good time. It is not like if you are terrible at golf it is a long five hours. If you go out there and miss one, you go out there to the next station, you don't have to go find your ball."
Jones said the first Ben Jones Celebrity Clay Shoot at the Nashville Gun Club was a big hit with his teammates. In fact, it sold out quickly for this year, and he ended up having little trouble rounding up teammates.
Jones and quarterback Marcus Mariota will make the rounds on Friday talking to sponsors and each group, while teammates participate in the 50-bird course clay shooting tournament.
"Everybody else caught on, except for Spain," Jones said with a smile. "I just think Spain needs some glasses. He's about blind.
"It should be a lot of fun again. When we started asking people last year, a lot of guys had never heard of (clay shooting). After they came out and shot, they had a blast. This year it was a lot easier asking because most guys were asking: Hey, when is it? Can I come back out and shoot? Because they had never done anything like it. So it was exciting for me.
"It's just a good time to be with your teammates and just do a little something outside football, and at the same time knowing you're helping others."