Dartmouth graduate transfers to NMSU to continue football dream
James Jones III, or “JJ” to his friends, achieved his goal this past summer as he graduated from Dartmouth College while playing Division 1 football through his five years there.
Now he transfers to New Mexico State University to continue playing football with the hopes of making it to the NFL.
He was a part of the team that won two back-to-back Ivy League football championships in 2019 and 2021 (the 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
He also won the honor of second team All-Ivy League tight end.
This is his last year of NCAA eligibility and he plans to put all his focus on football this year.
“I’m excited and honestly just ready to put all my hard work that I put in and all the hours that I put in and just leave everything I have on the field this last season, and give myself the best shot to help our team win,” Jones said. “And for me to hopefully have a shot to play the next level.”
Jones is from Tracey, California, but he was born in Phoenix before moving out of state.
Despite the distance, his father and late maternal grandmother taught him about the Navajo culture and he has many relatives on the Navajo Nation.
The stories of his grandmother attending a brutal boarding school but raising a caring family always inspired him.
“It’s something I’m very proud of (being Navajo),” he said. “It’s just ingrained in me, it’s in my blood. I can’t change who I am and I’m glad, because I’m very proud of who I am and where I came from.”
Football in his blood
Football is also in his blood. His grandfather, James Jones, played for the University of Texas at El Paso and made it to the NFL, playing for the Pittsburg Steelers.
His father, James Jones II, also made it to the collegiate level and played for NMSU.
Jones started playing football as far back as he can remember. He was running with the ball when he was about 5 or 6 years old. Since then the sport has been part of his life as well as that of his whole family.
“I would say I love football because of the values it teaches people,” he said. “In terms of discipline, hard work, teamwork and brotherhood.
“The best way I can always describe it is it’s one of the closest things you have to going to war without the actual brutality of war,” he said. “I think I’ve learned a lot through discipline and hard work and just tough learning lessons.
“Sometimes it deals out whether you’re ready or not,” he said, “and that’s something I’m very appreciative of.”
He attended Merrill F. West High and was with the team throughout his high school career. However, the team wasn’t the best, having a 0-10 season during Jones’ senior year.
But he continued playing with everything he had, sent his film out to colleges and kept his strength up.
Jones’ greatest strength is his heart, his motor to win. He’s willing to put in the work and do whatever it takes to get him, or the team, the win.
In 2017, he was contacted by the Dartmouth coach, who was impressed by his strength, stamina and skill in playing the tight end and invited him to school.
Ivy League a game changer
Getting to college was amazing for him, but making it to the Ivy League was truly a game changer that would change his family’s life.
Getting an education there will set up his life when he was finished playing football.
He played with a great team and is appreciative of what the coaches taught him, saying it changed his life and made him the man he is today.
While playing at Dartmouth, he kept up with his studies. He understood how big an opportunity this was to get an education at a prominent college and earned two degrees – bachelor’s in general engineering sciences and mechanical engineering.
He was driven by a mix of self-motivation and proved nay-sayers wrong.
He heard people saying he couldn’t make it to college or play professional football. Although he doesn’t listen to those words, it fuels him when he plays and he tries to show the world what he can do and “silence the haters.”
His time at Dartmouth was complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The season was canceled and gyms were closed, but Jones remained dedicated and continued working out from home.
He was determined to stay in shape and keep his place on the team.
He said this led to a hunger for the game that others on the team shared and he believed that helped them to win their second Ivy League football title.
“That was honestly a huge part of my life so far, just because it was the culminating of my experience and all the hard work I had put in, but also all the hard work that every single teammate that I played with on those teams has put in as well,” Jones said.
Graduating from Dartmouth was a huge moment. Now at NMSU he will join fellow Diné Shiyazh Pete. They are two of the few Native athletes playing D1 football.
Making his own story
He chose NMSU in part because its where his father had gone to and together, father and son toured the campus and saw Jones senior’s football plaque still hanging.
Jones is proud of his family lineage and achievements, but he plans to make his own story and not ride on the coattails of his father and grandfather.
Before at Dartmouth, only his parents attended some of his games. Now that he’s closer to the rez, many other relatives plan to come out to watch him play.
For now, he hopes to take the next step and play in the NFL or other national league. He doesn’t really have a preference which team he’d join, saying even if he played for the lowest ranked team, all he wants to do is keep playing the sport he loves.
He hopes his story will inspire other rez kids to keep pushing. If they have dreams of playing collegiate football, or even the NFL, he believes in them.
He encourages all athletes to keep their grades up, because college coaches will look at grades and it may be a deciding factor in being accepted.
“Not everything is about me,” he said, “and I hope maybe one kid reads this story and they take it to heart and it changes their life and they’re able to go somewhere and do something even better than what I was able to do or anyone else is able to do.
“All it takes is the right mindset,” he said, “and just the willingness to stop at nothing.”