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Packers WR James Jones - from zero to hero

Wide receiver James Jones. Photo: Image by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Packers WR James Jones - from zero to hero

By Stephen O'Brien, Packers contributor. CREATED Jul 23, 2013

GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers are a community. They are not just a Wisconsin community, they are a global community.  As with all communities, there are different kinds of people who make up it’s diverse fabric.

There are those who drive SUVs, drink skinny lattes and vacation in Europe.

Then there are those who were not so fortunate, those who grew up down on their luck. For these people, dreams are a little more modest, goals are a little more short term and stomachs may be a little more empty.

James Jones, a league-leading wide receiver for the Packers, had one of those groaning stomachs. Hunger is what he did have, but a home is what he didn’t.

The manner in which Jones worked his way from nothing to something is inspiring, but not surprising to see in Green Bay. It is not surprising because James Jones is exactly the type of player Ted Thompson goes for.

James Jones is "Packer People."

Jones was born in San Jose, California to Janet Jones. From birth, James’ story was one of hardship.

He grew up in an unstable environment. Along with his mother, he moved from homeless shelter to homeless shelter due to a rule that said you could stay longer than 3 months in any one refuge.

Jones credits his laid back attitude to why he wasn’t overly upset by it, but it really seems like this is all just part of his tough and modest demeanor.

It did affect the young man. We see that in his drive to go from homeless street kid to NFL player.

Jones' mother found it hard to get or keep a job. This would later give Jones the pleasure of providing for his mother and ensuring she would never have to look for work again.

Jones tells so many stories about his rough upbringing. He talks about the instability and indignity that a life on the streets brought him, but he says it rather matter-of-factly.

His mother begged on the streets. At times, James would get a cup in his hand and beg with his mother.

He told one story to Fox Sports' Pam Oliver of going into a Pizza delivery place and begging with the owner for some scraps. The owner gave him two large pizzas after James told him of his plight.

He got two free pizzas that day, but I am sure he receives that same treatment now wherever the Super Bowl winner goes for very different reasons.

Jones was eight years old when life sent him a lifeline. A man called Marion Larrea spotted Jones playing with his kids and asked him if he wanted to play ball.

Jones was taken in to the Larrea family, almost as if he were their son, and experienced his first taste of what it was like to be part of a happy family.

Larrea encouraged Jones to play football and even bought the young boy his first pair of cleats as his mother couldn’t afford them.

Janet recalled how happy her son was, and that even at such a young age, he pledged to her that he was going to play in the NFL some day.

At the age of 15, he decided that he had to leave his mother’s side and live with his grandmother Bernice while in high school. Although instability was all he ever knew, the future star wideout knew that he needed some grounding if he had any chance of graduating high school. He managed just that.

In fact, his mother saw some good fortune shine into her life too when she managed to get a job and an apartment in San Jose and be close to her son.

She attended all of Jones football games while but little did she know that soon enough, her flimsy bleacher seat in a small high school would be exchanged for a VIP seat at Super Bowl XLV.

Jones went to San Jose State to play football. Three of those years were played in relative obscurity, but his senior year in 2006 catapulted Jones to college stardom.

He caught 70 passes for 893 yards and ten scores. His blistering run of form earning him offensive MVP in the New Mexico Bowl and a spot on the All-WAC second team.

The NFL scouts, however, were not won over.

Like it was for Jones whole life, he had all the potential and positive outlook anyone could ever hope for, but still had to earn his place the hard way.

He told the cast of NFL AM recently that it wasn’t an easy trip to transition to the NFL. He wasn’t even invited to the NFL Combine until the night before, and even then he couldn’t sleep at the thought of running the 40 yard dash.

When he went to the combine, he didn’t have a lot of interviews. He said that scouts thought he was too slow, that he couldn’t get behind people. After he ran a 4.6 forty-yard dash, the scouts still were not overly impressed.

It seems one man was taken by Jones though. That man was Ted Thompson.

Thompson, being a very successful scout for Green Bay for 7 years during which time they played in two Super Bowls and won one, knows what it is to pick great players.

He picks "Packer People."

There are some characters that on paper may look like liabilities, but Thompson sees through all that.

Take this player, for instance, that comes from a large poor family. Imagine this guy has a criminal past. Imagine that this guy used to steal cars and deal drugs for money. Would you hire that guy to be on your ball team?

Ted Thompson did. That guy was Donald Driver.

Now answer this: would you give that guy a statue in Green Bay and name a street after him? Yes, you would.

In fact, you can go to your local book store and buy a book to read to your children that this guy wrote!

Donald Driver needs no introduction. He was one of the most beloved Packers of all time along with the likes of Starr, Lombardi, Nitschke, Favre and the great Jerry Kramer.

Thompson didn’t look at the indiscretions in isolation. He looked at the substance of the man and his motivations.

Driver was from a poor family living on food stamps out of the back of a U-Haul truck. He turned to a life of crime to help support his family financially.

In fact, throughout his whole career, he took the father mantle of the whole family and carried then on his back both morally and financially.

In high school, Driver used his freakish athletic ability to excel at all sports. In college, he won Athlete of the Year five times. He carried this ability through his whole career and became the Green Bay Packers all time leading receiver. That is quite an achievement in such a storied franchise.

Driver is "Packer People."

He is a community man, a family man. He was driven by the need to supply for his family, to pull them out of the life that they were dealt. Every spiral that slapped against his palms in a game meant more food for his family.

Driver became one of the most consistent wide receivers ever to play that game in a Packers uniform, and at the heart of it all was his will not only to be a better player, but a better person for all of those around him.

This is exactly what Donald Driver and James Jones have in common.

They know the importance of having stability. They know what it is like to have absolutely nothing.

When Jones got the call from the Packers that he would be drafted in the 3rd round of the 2007 NFL Draft, he knew that he had to use this opportunity as a platform to provide for his family.

But, just like always, Jones made a rough start to his career. On the depth chart as the 3rd wide receiver behind Driver and Jennings, Jones got somewhat of a reputation for dropping balls.

Not only did he get a reputation for dropping balls, they were seen as soft drops, drops in the open field.

When Jones got on to the biggest stage in his profession at the Super Bowl in 2010, he made a relatively easy drop after shaking off his defender, much to the dismay of Rodgers and McCarthy on a 3rd-and-5.

There was fan frustration that he should be carted off. He became a free agent in 2011 and was signed by the Packers on a three-year-deal.

2012 was Jones year. He silenced all of the doubters and posted the best numbers of his career.

Not only did he smash all his personal bests, but he also led the entire NFL in touchdowns with 14. Last season, Jones simply confirmed what Thompson already knew.

Jones, like Driver, was doing it for his family. Jones now not only has a mother and grandmother to support, but also a beautiful wife and baby son.

He has remarked in interviews that being able to provide for his family is paramount. Jones knows what it is like to live on the streets, move from shelter to shelter and beg for money and food.

Every pass that Rodgers rainbows his way is an opportunity for him to further solidify his place as the stand out wideout on the Packer roster.

Jones doesn’t take it all for granted. He earns millions of dollars yet still lives in a modest house. This is the measure of the man and is the true epitome of what it is to be a "Packer Person."

Another thing that fills the hearts of Packers fans across the world is the way Jones gives back to the community.

Jones runs a charity in the area called Love Jones 4 Kids. He runs football camps and fundraising the kids that were just like him growing up with hard circumstances.

He also visits the Milwaukee Rescue Mission regularly with his family and donates large sums of money to the kids there.

He is a family man, a community man. He catches passes like his life depends on it and is a loyal and committed man both on and off the field.

He has the appreciation for things as if they are all going to disappear tomorrow because he knows what it is like not to have them.

In fact, he knows what it felt like to not have a tomorrow to look forward to. Now, he has a beautiful family and a community of children in need that depend on him. I think we can trust that, just like with his family, he wont let us down. He is a true Packer.

James Jones is Packer People.

Read more from Stephen O'Brien of UK Packers (@packers_uk on Twitter) for which he is a co-founder and editor.

Jay Sorgi contributed to this story.