IRVING, Texas -- Andy Jones did not have a chance to listen to the full commencement speech given by Mayor Lenny Curry at Jacksonville University on April 30.
He had to take a call from Dallas Cowboys wide receivers coach Derek Dooley.
“I had to walk out, and they weren’t trying to let me out and stuff,” remembered Jones, who earned a business administration degree. “I ended up getting around them, because I was like, ‘I have to talk to Coach Dooley.’”
Dooley was calling Jones to emphasize the Cowboys’ interest in signing him should he not be drafted. Jones talked to Dooley a number of times during the draft process and liked what he heard.
Jones might not have heard all of Curry’s words, but the Jacksonville mayor’s message had already been received.
“If you’re heading in a direction that you don’t want to go, that does not evoke passion, my advice is to -- and parents may hate me for this -- choose your road,” Curry told the graduating class, according to the university's Wave Magazine. “Walk your path. Flip it all upside down. Follow your passion and your dreams ... Don’t live anyone else’s version of your life.”
Jones’ dream has been to play in the NFL, even at non-scholarship Jacksonville. He was an admitted late bloomer at East Ridge High School in Clermont, Florida. He chose Jacksonville because of its coach, Kerwin Bell.
He finished his career with 144 catches for 2,120 yards and 17 touchdowns, including 60 catches for 890 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior.
While scouts were aware of him, it was his performance at the University of Florida’s pro day that made them do a double take. He had a 41.5-inch vertical jump and an 11-foot-1-inch broad jump. Both would have put him among the tops in those drills at the combine. He ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash.
“My strength right now is my bigger body with speed, deceptive speed,” Jones said. “But definitely learning the playbook on a very good pace. Just being able to line up and being ready to go and not having to think twice about a lot of stuff I’m doing. I think that’s what is helping me right now.”
The Cowboys took an interest and were persistent. Had they had a seventh-round pick, he could have been it. They considered him in the sixth round but took tight end Rico Gathers instead.
They gave Jones a $15,000 signing bonus, the highest of any of their undrafted free agents.
“We felt like he was a guy a lot of people might be interested in because of how he worked out and a small school guy but showed he had some ability,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Some people saw him as a DB, some people saw him as a receiver. We felt we could bring him in and give him an opportunity. We fought for him a little bit in free agency and decided to have him a part of our team.”
The Cowboys’ history of giving undrafted free agents a real chance played a part in Jones’ decision. Last year Lucky Whitehead made the team as an undrafted receiver. In 2012, Cole Beasley did the same. Back in 2006, it was Miles Austin and Sam Hurd.
Jones was issued No. 81, which can be viewed as a positive sign, but it wasn’t just the jersey number that meant something to him.
“I kinda had a small school moment when I looked at the towels and they had my number on it,” Jones said. “And I was like, ‘Oh my gosh my towel has my number.’ They were like, ‘What school did you go to?’ I was like, ‘Oh well,’ but yeah, I guess it’s definitely humbling to be in here right now. It’s kinda still surreal a little bit but got to definitely work and work some more.”