Thomas and Betty Jones were determined that their seven children would not follow them into the coal mines of Southwest Virginia. They insisted that the children take their education seriously, even when two of their sons flashed enough athletic prowess to be offered football scholarships. Today, the first six Jones children have attended college, while the seventh is a college-bound high school senior.
It is a tribute to the Joneses that their son Thomas Jones (Col ’99)—now among the top running backs in the National Football League—not only obeyed their directives, but absorbed their values. During the Chicago Bears’ bye weekend, Jones returned to Charlottesville to announce the creation of the Thomas Quinn Jones Scholarship Fund, to benefit UVA students from a five-county area of Southwest Virginia. The Jones Scholars will receive $2,000 annually, renewable for up to four years.
“I wanted to give those people a chance to experience what I experienced here, because I can honestly say that UVA didn’t really change my life, but started my life, as far as me becoming a man and understanding different ways of thinking,” Jones said in making the announcement.
While his accomplishments as a Cavalier football player were many—he is UVA’s all-time leading rusher (3,998 career yards), its only consensus All-American running back in a half-century, and was a first-round pick in the 2000 NFL Draft—his career in the classroom was also impressive. Jones earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology in just three years.
Jones’ gift comes as the University is actively seeking to recruit economically disadvantaged but qualified students. Currently, UVA enrolls about 10 students annually from the Jones scholarships’ target region. “We think these scholarships will be a wonderful incentive to the students of Southwest Virginia, and our hope is that the scholarships will assist us in identifying and recruiting candidates from this area of the state,” says John Blackburn, dean of admission.
Jones’ gift was made shortly after a $1 million pledge to UVA from his former teammates and current NFL colleagues, Tiki (Com ’97) and Ronde Barber (Com ’97).