Ian Maddox

Virginia alumni who tune in to the hit BET show Being Mary Jane this season might recognize a familiar face. But the actor portraying Gabrielle Union’s love interest wasn’t a thespian in Charlottesville; he was a star running back for the Cavaliers.

After finishing his collegiate career as UVA’s all-time leading rusher, Thomas Jones (Col ’99) spent 12 years in the NFL, playing in a Super Bowl and finishing his career 24th on the all-time rushing list. He retired from football in 2011, unsure of what challenge to pursue next.

Matt Riley/UVA Media Relations

Jones found his answer in a production company he founded during his playing days called Independently Major Entertainment, which promotes musical artists and develops films. Through his company, he met actor Clifton Powell in 2012, who encouraged Jones to try acting. From there, he met his manager, started to go on auditions and was soon cast in projects.

“I like the fact that acting is something new and different that helps you build character,” Jones says. “As football players, you don’t get to be as creative as you might want. With acting, there’s a lot of different projects that come my way that deal with different aspects of life.”

This summer, moviegoers saw Jones playing the role of one of Suge Knight’s bodyguards in Straight Outta Compton. Jones has also appeared on Showtime’s Shameless and IFC’s Comedy Bang! Bang! He’s also developing several projects with his production company, including The NFL: The Gift or the Curse?, a five-part online series.

While he hasn’t been back to Grounds in several years, Jones says Charlottesville was his most influential home. “I have more fond memories of Charlottesville than from anywhere, whether it be the NFL, where my acting has taken me, etc.,” Jones says. “UVA was the start of the evolution process for me. There’s something special about Charlottesville.”

In 2006, Jones started the Thomas Quinn Jones Scholarship Fund, which provides annual scholarships of $2,000 for qualifying students from several counties in southwestern Virginia, near his hometown, Big Stone Gap. The scholarships are renewable for up to four years as long as the student remains in good standing at the University. Since the program’s inception, 30 students have benefited, including Jones’ three younger sisters.

Jones doesn’t watch the NFL these days, but still keeps up with Cavalier football. With the way his career is going, his next trip to Charlottesville may not be to Scott Stadium, but instead to the Virginia Film Festival.