Page High senior Will Jones didn’t want to be a quarterback at first.
As a seventh-grader, the coaches asked him to move from wide receiver because of injuries at the quarterback position.
“I was throwing in the gym and they said, ‘Throw it again,’” Jones said. “I said, ‘I don’t want to play quarterback.’ In my mind, I was thinking: I hate quarterback. I want to catch the ball and hit people. I threw the next one badly on purpose, so the coach (Christian Hill) was shaking his head and said, ‘Now, really throw it.’ I threw it and he said, ‘You’re playing quarterback.’”
It wasn’t exactly love at first sight, but the position grew on Jones.
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“I didn’t really know the concept of being the quarterback,” he said. “I didn’t realize he was the main leader of the team, that he controlled everything and had to know what everyone was supposed to do. And people listened to him. He held everyone accountable and he had accountability to everyone.”
Five years later, Jones is still playing quarterback. It’s not just his position on the football field, it’s who he is.
This Saturday he leads his team to a second straight state championship game. The Pirates take on Wake Forest at 3:05 p.m. in Carter-Finley Stadium. Earlier this year, he was chosen to play in the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas and committed to Western Carolina.
“The older he’s gotten, the more he likes it,” said Page coach Kevin Gillespie. “It’s become fun for him to work on it, and when you’ve got one like that who enjoys fine-tuning things they’re going to keep getting better.”
‘I can do this’
Jones has come a long way from the night of Sept. 5, 2014, when an injury to Page starter Dominick Britt thrust him into the lineup against a Butler team that would go 11-4 that year.
“I was sitting on the sideline watching Dominick get hit and I thought: I’m glad I’m not out there,” Jones said. “All of a sudden he gets hurt. I go in and I am as nervous as I could ever be. I’m thinking: Don’t throw a pass, just hand it off. Dominick comes back in and I’m thinking: Thank God. But Dominick comes back out and Coach G says, ‘You’re going to have to play the rest of the game.’ ”
Jones’ second pass against Butler was an interception by current Appalachian State defensive back Clifton Duck. He would throw another pick, but completed 11 of 21 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown.
“It gave me a lot more confidence because when I got into the locker room I was mad that we lost,” Jones said, “but at the same time people were telling me, ‘Good job.’ I thought: What did I do right? But I looked at the film and realized, I can do this.”
As a junior, Jones was 204-of-345 passing for 3,098 yards with 31 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also had 98 carries for 309 yards and 10 TDs while helping lead the Pirates to a 13-3 record and a spot in 4AA championship game.
“I transformed as a quarterback, as a person and as a leader,” he said.
But Jones’ breakout junior season was not without its disappointments, most notably a 35-7 loss at Dudley during the regular season and a humiliating 49-6 defeat against Charlotte’s Mallard Creek in the state championship game.
Those three games may be the reason Jones’ only Division I scholarship offers were from Football Championship Subdivision schools: East Tennessee State, Elon, Gardner-Webb, Towson and Western Carolina. He committed in July and says, “I’m perfectly happy and committed to Western. I love that school and that football program.”
But the lack of FBS offers still stings.
“Decision-making has played a big part in it, and his play in pressure situations,” said Adam Friedman, Rivals.com mid-Atlantic recruiting analyst. “Two big games last year he did not have good games. (But) his teammates didn’t have good games, either.”
Gillespie says a big part of the reason for the lack of FBS offers is that his quarterback was “a late bloomer.” But he has also heard the questions about Jones’ play in the state final.
“We had six turnovers in the first half, and a lot of that wasn’t on Mallard Creek and a lot of that wasn’t on Will Jones,” the Page coach said.
‘Always striving to get better’
Attitude is a big reason why Jones has been able to grow from reluctant quarterback into a future college signal-caller.
He took the disappointment of last year’s final game and the drive to get better and channeled it into even more offseason work, giving up basketball in December to focus on training with Lamour and with former Northwest Guilford and Guilford College quarterback Matt Pawlowski, who’s now a graduate assistant at N.C. A&T.
“I believe his ability to extend plays and keep his eyes downfield, then make plays with his arm … Western Carolina got a steal,” Gillespie said.
Even Friedman said there’s a lot to like about Jones’ game.
“He has some physical tools, and he has an understanding of how to run an offense and knows how to get the ball out of his hands,” the recruiting analyst said. “... That definitely makes him a potential late-offer candidate.”
Jones isn’t worried about getting any more scholarship offers. He just wants to finish his high school football career on a high note, then join the Page basketball team for one final run with the Pirates.
“I know what I want to do and who I want to be in life, and I’m not afraid to show it or voice my opinion,” he said. “Me being a good quarterback comes from wanting to get better every single day.”
Contact Joe Sirera at (336) 373-7034, and follow @JoeSireraNR on Twitter.