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Being Thomas Jones: U.Va. College Alumnus Talks Family, Football and Fame

Published August 7, 2015 in News

By: Diana Williams | UVAToday, Office of University Communications

The sounds of weights clanging together could make it nearly impossible for the average person to concentrate and hold a conversation, but for Thomas Q. Jones, it’s all in a day’s work. Jones is calling from the gym, where he’s squeezing in a workout (and an interview) before he begins another busy day.

Jones, a 1999 graduate of the University of Virginia’s College of Arts & Sciences, was one of the best tailbacks in the history of U.Va. football. The Cavaliers’ all-time leading rusher, he was an All-American in 1999 and finished eighth in the balloting for the 1999 Heisman Trophy, awarded to the nation’s best college football player. Selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the first round of the 2000 National Football League Draft, Jones went on to play professionally for five teams in 12 seasons.

For Jones, playing in the NFL was like being a superhero. “You’re like Batman,” he said.  “[The fans] see you do all these great things on the field, but no one sees your face until you take your helmet off.” As a result, Jones felt his fans knew of him, but didn’t really know him.

That all changed when Jones was cast last year in the BET series, “Being Mary Jane.” His fan base exploded beyond football and now includes men and women who get to see his face and watch him display a range of emotions as an actor. He said he’s enjoying the experience and is excited that he’s seen as an actor and not “a football player trying to act.”

It’s a big feat for a kid who played high school football on a much smaller stage at rural Powell Valley High, in Virginia’s smallest classification. He described his upbringing and that of his six siblings as “rough,” but full of love and support. Parents Betty and Thomas emphasized the importance of education, and all seven Jones children graduated from college, including three younger sisters who followed Thomas to U.Va.: Knetris (a 2003 alumna), Knetta (2006) and Katrice (2011).

We’ll next see Jones, now 36, on the big screen in the upcoming film, “Straight Outta Compton,” before he returns for another season of “Being Mary Jane.” In the meantime, UVA Today managed to catch up with the unmasked man before he ran off to his next audition.

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