Jones excelling at N.C. State
By Mike London
East Rowan graduate Nolan Stehr recently searched local sporting goods stores for a 16-pound shot put.
The college shot is four pounds heavier than the one Stehr threw in high school, and his shopping trip was a sign he intends to continue his career at N.C. State.
Jason Jones has blazed a clear trail for county champion Stehr to follow.
Once a walk-on for the Wolfpack, Jones is now one of the ACC’s top shot putters. The 2005 East graduate threw 58 feet, 83/4 inches to place sixth in the East Regional in Tallahassee last month and just missed a berth in the NCAA National Championships.
With two years worth of throws in front of him, Jones has a lot of look forward to, and so does the Wolfpack.
“Jason had a whole lot to do with us getting our program built back up,” said East coach Rick Roseman, who has guided East to back-to-back county championships. “His success helped attract a lot of kids, especially in the throws, and the throws have had so much to do with us winning county meets.”
Stehr, Josh Patch and Nathan Robbins were 1-2-3 in the shot in the county this year. That trio built on the legacy of throwers such as Jones and Ryan Pless and benefited from the energy of East’s throws guru Jamie Ledbetter, the 1976 WNCHSAA discus champion.
Jones was a good football player at East, a key cog in the 2004 offensive line that helped the Mustangs make a turnaround under former coach Will Orbin after several seasons of futility.
Jones was all-county and all-conference as a senior, but at 6 feet tall, his future in the sport was limited.
Former East coach Ed Bowles got Jones started, and he enjoyed track success as a junior, placing third in the shot in the 3A state meet with a heave of 51-103/4. The winner was Toney Baker, a standout Ragsdale running back who would also end up in Raleigh.
“I see Toney around campus, but he probably doesn’t recognize me,” Jones said. “I don’t look like the same person I was in high school.”
Jones improved to 54-10 and second place at the 3A state meet his senior year, but he was still more than a foot shy of Baker’s winning mark, and college coaches didn’t chase him with offers.
Jones’ academics were strong, and his 4.39 GPA helped him earn a Chancellor’s Leadership Scholarship to N.C. State, but he headed to Raleigh believing his athletic career was history.
But Roseman made a phone call in the fall of 2005. He went the extra mile for an athlete that had helped revitalize East’s program.
“I knew Jason was going to State, and I ended up talking to their throws coach, Tom Wood,” Roseman said. “I didn’t know if Jason was good enough to throw at the ACC level or not, but I knew he would have been a state champion if Toney Baker hadn’t been around, and I knew he had a chance.”
Wood contacted Jones.
“It was about a week after school started, I hadn’t even done any of the clearinghouse paperwork, but I agreed to try out for the team,” Jones said. “I was a rail then. I was about 250 as a senior in high school, but I’d gotten down to 215. But I got some nudgings from the coaches to get my weight and strength back up.”
He’s eaten and lifted his way up to 300 pounds now.
Jones redshirted his first year, practicing spins and learning the ropes and rhythms from Wood and All-American Mitchell Pope. He was introduced to the overhead, swinging techniques of the weight throw and hammer throw and adjusted to the heavier college shot.
Shot putters liken that switch to driving a brand new car. Sure, you know how to drive, but everything still feels different.
Jones’ 54-foot throws at East with a 12-pound sphere were the equivalent of 44-to-48-foot heaves with a 16-pounder. Like all throwers, Jones saw his distances drop swiftly before inching back slowly to former levels.
“I improved just from being around the kind of coaches and athletes they have at State,” Jones said.
In his first year of completion, Jones made more of an impact than anyone expected, usually competing in the shot and weight throw indoors and the shot, hammer and discus outdoors.
He scored a point for the Wolfpack with an eighth-place finish in the weight throw at the 2007 ACC Indoor Championships at Clemson. He was 11th in the shot with an effort of 49-7.
Jones was finally convinced he belonged in the ACC at the league’s 2007 Outdoor Championships at Maryland. He was seventh in the shot at 54-21/2.
“Until that meet, I never really got that confidence you have to have to succeed,” Jones explained. “But I was seeded a lot lower than seventh, and I scored two points for the team.”
He threw the shot 56-4 in the East Regional for 17th. He thought he’d finished his first season of college competition on a high note, but a higher one was still ahead.
“They called me and told me they were putting me on scholarship,” Jones said. “I wasn’t expecting that.”
An athletic scholarship is the Holy Grail for any walk-on, but Jones didn’t rest during the recently completed school year.
He finished fourth in the shot (57-23/4) and fifth in the weight throw at the ACC Indoor Championships in Chapel Hill to amass nine points for the Wolfpack.
He might have reached 60 feet in the shot for the first time this spring had he not suffered a groin injury in the first outdoor meet. That curtailed practice time and limited him in most meets.
He still managed fourth at the ACC Outdoor Championships in Atlanta, throwing the shot 57-11/2 , and he added an eighth in the hammer.
His spring efforts also included a sixth in the shot at the prestigious Penn Relays in April before he closed the campaign with his fifth in the East Regional.
His priority for this season was simply to get his scholarship renewed. He accomplished that and more.
“With the added weight and strength, I started seeing numbers I hadn’t seen before, even with that groin injury,” Jones said. “I can break the 60-foot barrier next year ó that’s really not a stretch if I’m healthy. And while I didn’t make nationals this time, it was probably a good thing. It gave me some time to heal.”
Roseman is thrilled he made the phone call that got the ball rolling, and he doesn’t doubt Jones can become an ACC champion, even an an All-American. Jones isn’t the sort to be satisfied. If he gets 60, he’ll keep going.
“Jason’s proved by his work ethic he can probably reach any goal he sets for himself,” Roseman said. “He’s doing things now the same as he did them in high school ó one step at a time, one goal at a time, one plateau at a time.
“He’s one heck of a story. He’s done things people don’t expect to do in their wildest dreams. Not walk-on kids. Not in the ACC.”
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