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When Markell Jones abruptly stopped showing up at Spoto football practices in late August last year, coach Dale Caparaso’s first assumption was that he had somehow offended his young linebacker.
“I thought he didn’t like us,” Caparaso said. “I just thought, ‘Okay, it’s one of those scenarios where a player and a coach didn’t jive.’ ”
Instead, Jones’ decision to leave the team was inspired by a far more mature motive. He needed to improve his grades, and he knew he couldn’t do that while keeping up with a demanding football schedule.
With his grade point average slipping toward the 2.0 eligibility requirement, Jones opted to give up a potential starting position to focus on his classes.
“I was kind of being lazy, getting home tired from practice and was just like, ‘I don’t want to do it’ because I was tired,” Jones said. “I was like, you know what? Football’s just not going to be a distraction this time.”
Though Jones’ family, friends and teammates were initially confused by the decision, they understood the logic behind it: Football might not be enough to get him into college, but good grades will be.
The move paid off, as Jones said he now has a weighted 3.0 GPA, has added advanced placement courses to his schedule and has received academic scholarship offers from Florida International and Florida State.
While the AP classes and college search will keep him busy off the field, the 5-foot-10, 195-pound linebacker will face the daunting task of replacing Hillsborough transfer Rodney Williams on the gridiron. But Jones isn’t shying away from the task, nor is he planning to coast through his senior year academically.
“I’m pushing myself even more. I’m like, ‘You know what, I want both,’ ” Jones said. “I don’t want to just have one then slip on the grades or just have grades and slip on the football. I want to have football and grades.”
Jones didn’t explain the decision to Caparaso until Spoto’s offseason workouts, during which he again earned the starting middle linebacker job. Though Caparaso admitted he would have liked to see Jones on the field last year, he fully supported his player’s choice.
“God bless him. What a great, mature decision, and now, he can have his cake and eat it, too,” Caparaso said. “He’s going to end up this season as, I think, one of the top linebackers in the county as well as a very strong academic kid.
“You can’t get any better than that.”