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Straight from the hardwood to the gridiron

MSU-N hoops standout Paco Jones jumps head first into playing tight end for the Lights, and he's loving it

 

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Paco Jones, who played basketball this winter for the Montana State University-Northern Lights, hauls in a pass during a Northern spring football practice last Wednesday in Havre. Jones, who didn't play football in high school, has one semester of NAIA eligibility remaining in his college career, so, he's trying his hand at football as a tight end for the Lights.

For as long as he can remember, Cayeveoon "Paco" Jones has wanted to play football. Now, after playing basketball for the Montana State University-Northern Lights, Jones is getting the chance to try his hand at football, and he is determined to take advantage of the opportunity.

"My mother was just the type of person that if I was going to live in her house, I was going to go by her ways," Jones said. "And she didn't want me to play football. So in high school, I did play baseball, but I wasn't able to play football. This is the first opportunity I have gotten to play football and I am taking that."

Jones, a 6-5 forward, played in 31 games this past season for Shawn Huse and the Lights basketball team, averaging 3.5 points per game and four rebounds. While Jones has no more basketball eligibility left, he is eligible to play one semester of football and after a chance meeting with Northern head coach Andrew Rolin shortly after he was hired, the possibility of playing football became real.

"I went up to him and he shook my hand and said 'you're going to be my tight end.'" Jones said. "And I was like sure and then we just kind of kept in touch after that."

Now Jones is getting his shot with the Lights and as the team hit the field last week for spring football practice, Jones was there, playing tight end for MSU-N. And even though it's the first time he has stepped onto a football field, early on, he looks like he belongs.

"Some things, being an athlete, just translate," Jones said. "Playing the game low, quick first step and hustling, having good energy and being attentive. I think those things translate over to any sport. I am just trying to stick with those roots and basics and just be a sponge. Everybody around is being positive and they are embracing me. They know that I am new. They aren't taking it easy on me, but they know it's my first time playing. It's been a smooth transition so far, but all my teammates and coaches have been really positive as things have moved along."

Making the switch from one sport to another isn't easy but there is a precedent for guys making a successful transition from the basketball floor, to the football field. In fact, there have been some really successful NFL players, that spent the majority of their time playing hoops in college. Antonio Gates might be the most famous example of that. The former Kent State power forward joined the San Diego Chargers as an undrafted free agent and went on to have a Hall-of-Fame career. Jimmy Graham is another prime example. He played college basketball for four years before playing one year of college football. He was drafted by the Saints and has had a Pro-Bowl career. They both played tight end.

While Jones isn't comparing himself to those players, the success they have had, along with others making the transition, gave him more reason to believe he could do it and do it successfully.

"It definitely did cross my mind," Jones said. "A lot of people have done it, so it's not impossible. In my mind, I really wanted to do it. I don't know if those guys had high school backgrounds before college ball. But I know that If I put my mind to it and concentrate, I can do anything I want to do. But some things from basketball I am actually using to my advantage in football, like the lateral speed and the acceleration and the footwork. Those are the things I am taking right from the court to the field."

So far, Jones has been fitting in. Last Wednesday, in the second practice of spring football, he flashed his skills, hauling in a couple receptions. Jones said he hopes to find a way to contribute for the Lights next season.

"I want to be versatile and try to make some plays," Jones said. "I want to be a target the quarterback can throw to. I want to get a full experience out of it. I am really clued in on trying to make an impact by doing the small things. If I can nail the small things, the big plays will happen."

Jones also said that after his first week, he is loving football, especially the physicality of it.

"I love it, the environment and the way you get to carry yourself," Jones said. "I feel like you get to carry yourself with a certain amount of aggression and I wasn't able to do that in basketball. I get to run around and look for contact. I get to use types of lingo and language that if you use that language in a gym, you will be in trouble. It's football talk and I think it fits my personality, quite a bit. I am pretty intense and on the football field I can get into it without having to be apologetic. There are no foul calls. It's amazing."

 

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