TAMPA — From the center of the Bucs’ indoor practice facility, James Jones IV cracked a smile. His team didn’t place first or second at the USAA Salute to Service NFL Boot Camp Monday at AdventHealth Training Center, but the second lieutenant still was applauded for his 40-yard dash time.
It was a 4.41, Jones said afterward. Glancing down at his shoes, he said if he had worn cleats, his time could’ve been faster — possibly near 4.3. He flashed that speed as a defensive back at Air Force, and this spring earned a rookie minicamp invite from the Dolphins before continuing his five-year military commitment that started after his December graduation.
“Trying to keep the (NFL) dream alive,” Jones said.
Jones was one of 50 local military personnel — 10 teams with five members each — competing in the fifth edition of the camp. They rotated through stations for the 40-yard dash, receiving gauntlet, quarterback arm challenge, vertical jump and three-cone shuttle, with the winning team receiving tickets to a Bucs game in November.
“Today is about coming out and displaying your talents and skill, and that’s what the military is used to,” said Shelina Frey, a USAA military affairs representative who served in the Air Force for 34 years. “We are trained and trained to perform, to execute.”
As the Bucs wrapped up Day 5 of training camp, the group of active military personnel started its own warmups inside the facility. One balanced on a railing and swung his leg back and forth. Others stretched groins, quads, arms — anything they might need for the sequence of stations. Then, they gathered at the far end of the indoor field for a group warmup.
Jones said his best event was the 40-yard dash or vertical jump. Each day, he wakes up around 4:30 a.m. and trains before work, sometimes adding another session before going to bed. He mixes mobility exercises, heavy lifting and running to make sure his football movements remain crisp.
Jones began playing the sport when he was 4 years old. His father coached at college programs from Northern Colorado and San Jose State to Dartmouth and Kentucky State. His grandfathers served in the military, morphing Jones’ passion into one that combined “a little bit of both.”
Jones first appeared in a game for Air Force during the 2017 season, when he started nine times. He completed his final collegiate season, 2021, with eight tackles, one interception and a fumble recovery.
He got a taste of his NFL dream participating in rookie minicamp with the Dolphins, where he said he “definitely felt like I belonged.” He tried to soak in the exposure, knowing that each football experience between now and the end of his Air Force commitment bridges the gap until he can compete for a roster spot.
There’s still “a fire and a passion and eagerness to get more,” he said.
“It’s always been kind of a dual dream,” Jones said, “and here I am chasing both.”
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