Last week, Palmetto High’s Johnny Jones spent the first half of a crucial regular season finale against Punta Gorda Charlotte on the sideline without one rushing attempt.
The junior running back sized up Charlotte’s defense, analyzing what was happening so he’d excel when his chance came.
Jones tallied 104 rushing yards on 12 carries, and it all came in the second half.
But waiting for a chance to play is the least of the challenges Jones has faced in his life.
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Jones has bounced from living in Palmetto to Bradenton and now Parrish.
When he was 2 months old, Jones’ godmother, Teri Mazza, and grandmother, Diana Mazza, took him in.
“(My mom) couldn’t take care of me, because she has a lot of kids,” Jones said.
Growing up without a father figure in his life, Jones could have gotten off track and succumbed to his surroundings.
Instead, sports became the salvation along with his parental figures, which also included his aunt, Tonya Cruz, and Pop Warner’s North Manatee Storm keeping him on the right path.
“I play just to get out of this area,” Jones said. “So when I was younger, we were struggling. ... I want to get out of this area and help (my godmother) out and my birth mother out.”
The struggling part came with money, and there wasn’t a lot around Jones when he was younger.
“It taught me a lot,” Jones said. “Because I was with my birth mother and my godmother came through. She didn’t have to do none of that. She came through when I was two months and took care of me, because that’s what she thought she could do as a person. She said she has common courtesy to others. She always taught me to have common courtesy.”
That courtesy is exemplified in who Jones is as a person now in his junior year with Palmetto.
During the Charlotte game week, Jones suffered a flat tire and was fearing he’d miss some practice time.
But head coach Dave Marino said he told him and his godmother that they’d sort it all out.
“Wherever we need to fill in and help her out, we’ve done that,” Marino said. “... You just fill that role as dad.”
Marino said Jones is a 3.0 GPA student-athlete, and his hard work has primed him to become a significant contributor in the Class 7A-Region 3 playoffs, which begin Friday for Palmetto with a trip to Pinellas Park.
“I’ve seen it where they had the support of foster parents or an aunt or an uncle, and they just can’t get over that,” Marino said. “And they continue to rebel and the issues linger, and the anger bubbles up. Not him. He channels it in the right way and he’s able to compartmentalize and use it as motivation.”
Part of a running back committee, neither Jones or teammate Elijah Davis sulk on the sidelines when they aren’t playing.
Instead, they’re eyeing the opposing defense and watching their teammate perform.
When their number is called, they’re ready to perform.
“Johnny is a slasher,” Marino said. “He’s a little bit more elusive. Once he makes that cut, he has great vision. EJ’s a downhill guy. He is a power runner. Very difficult to tackle. ... It’s a good competition between the two.”
This week’s games
Manatee at Kissimmee Osceola, 7:30 p.m.
Braden River at South Fort Myers, 7:30 p.m.
Palmetto at Pinellas Park, 7:30 p.m.
Clearwater Superior Collegiate at IMG White, 1 p.m.
Bishop Sullivan (Virginia Beach, Va.) at IMG Blue, 7 p.m.
Jupiter Christian at Saint Stephen’s, 7 p.m.