Even though senior linebacker Arman Jones has one kidney less than the rest of his teammates, he more than makes it up through leadership by example, a positive attitude instilled through familial support and athletic versatility that leaves tight ends and running backs alike with a tough matchup.
Born with a single kidney, Jones was advised to stop playing football in middle school, but his passion for the sport and the happiness it brought him propelled him to continue and thrive.
“I wasn’t supposed to play football at all, but I kept going,” Jones said. “I love the game too much and enjoy just playing with friends and relatives I ended up getting a bond with. In middle school, they were like, ‘you probably should stop,’ and in high school they were like, ‘you definitely should stop,’ but I’m here now, healthy and blessed to be able to play the game still.”
And play the game he has, having recorded 167 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 14.5 tackles–for–loss and two interceptions returned for touchdowns in 35 games for the Tribe, all while providing a model to aspire to for younger players, both on the field and off. First-year head coach Mike London noted his effect on his teammates in preparation and mentality.
“Arman is not only a leader in terms of his effort on the field, but in the meeting rooms,” London said. “When you’re having meetings, he’s talking about, ‘what’s your job, what’s your responsibility?’ to the other players. It’s like a coach being out on the field. His ability to expect and demand from himself and others is something that stands out and makes him a really good leader.”
In addition to football, Jones strives to connect with his teammates on a personal level by being there for them off the field as well as on.
“I try to just build on relationships for each of the players I come in contact with,” Jones said. “And ask personal questions ’cause I feel like that’s the biggest thing. The game we play, it’s all about football, but we got to step back sometimes and ask how we are as people.”
Jones derives many of his leadership qualities and self-motivation from his father, who he credits as his strongest role model growing up, having taught him the importance of striving for his best and creating his own path.
“I know overall he wants me to do my own thing,” Jones said. “That’s the biggest thing he taught me growing up: you don’t have to follow in anybody’s footsteps.”
He was a sought-after recruit coming out of high school, drawing interest from James Madison, Harvard, Cornell and the military academies in addition to the College. However, Jones says a visit to practice here made his choice clear.
“I got the vibe from everybody: coaches, players, staff, like it’s family oriented and it felt right,” Jones said. “It felt like you were actually home. It felt like everybody accepted you for who you are regardless of your background, and it’s something I was looking forward to, obviously and a great education at William and Mary. I felt like it was a no-brainer when I came and got a feel for the campus. I chose here and haven’t regretted it ever since.”
His teammates and coaches have noted growth each season in his play, particularly his penchant for momentum-shifting moments.
“Arman’s obviously been a baller from the start,” senior safety Isaiah Laster, who was Jones’ sophomore year roommate, said. “But as he’s played more, he’s seeing things faster, reacting faster, and making more plays.”
These plays not only affect the flow of a game but can change the entire culture and mindset of a defense. Laster noted how big plays from Jones in game and in practice affected the players around him.
“I think it makes other players hungrier for more plays,” Laster said. “People say ‘playmaking is contagious,’ but mental toughness-wise, when a guy you’re practicing with is making plays, it kind of makes you feel ‘I should be making these sort of plays.’”
Jones played cornerback, safety and linebacker in high school, and London has used his versatility to position him in different spots throughout the season. Many players substitute in or out each play depending on the defensive personnel package, but Jones often stays in all three downs, regardless of formation.
“He’s an outside linebacker and he also plays in nickel package when it’s third and long,” London said. “He’s one of the guys we have in that can rush, that can drop into coverage, or take a running back man-to-man, so he’s versatile from that standpoint.”
No matter how many positions played at the high school level, the transition to college football can be substantial, and Jones has noticed thus far in his senior campaign that his comfort level has improved with age.
“Coming in as a freshman, it was crazy,” Jones said. “Everything was fast, and it’s kind of crazy to get adjusted. Now to my senior year, I think my knowledge of the game has improved, especially with the big FBS games, so now it’s just focus in on what your job is and applying that and continuing on.”
In addition to football, Jones has embraced the liberal arts nature of the college education during his four years, focusing on business, math and, most recently, his history major and Africana studies minor, although he says his true passion lies in helping others learn.
“Eventually, when I get a little older, I’m going to end up teaching,” Jones said. “I don’t know what I like about teaching, but I’ve tutored a couple kids and help some kids out once and a while, and I really enjoy it.”
Jones plans to either pursue a master’s degree in education or follow another dream of his, to work in football administration at the college or professional level.
As far as lessons to younger players goes, though, Jones stresses the importance of embracing the role one plays and staying in the moment.
“Don’t let anybody take your joy away from you,” Jones said. “With sports and academics, it’s going to be demanding at times and life’s going to be hard, but you can’t let any situation take you down and change the way you feel about yourself. Take every day as a gift or a blessing, cause there’s a lot of people out there that really wish they were in your shoes regardless of what you’re going through.”
Effort and perseverance are the engine that drives Jones both in the classroom and on the gridiron, and he hopes that mindset will help drive his play and the program to a successful season.
“Just play your heart out,” Jones said. “And never quit, no matter how hard the circumstances are, or no matter how tough life gets. Always play your heart out, and the success will come.”