First came the traditional Lambeau Leap to celebrate his 46-yard touchdown with the Green Bay Packers against the New Orleans Saints.
Then rookie Aaron Jones found a camera and in his white gloves flashed nine fingers, followed by one, followed by five — El Paso’s 915 area code. Then he flashed the UTEP “picks up” hand signal.
That happened last week when Jones, a former UTEP Miner, sent the not-so-secret shout out to the town he calls home. While the game wasn’t broadcast in El Paso, YouTube clips of his celebration were being shared all over town by that afternoon.
“I wanted to let everybody know I’m for El Paso,” said the 22-year-old Jones, who was at the University of Texas at El Paso football practice Wednesday. “They’ve always supported me. I’ll always represent my home city.”
With the Packers on their bye week, Jones was in the Sun City, visiting family, stopping to see hospitalized children, and strolling the town where his career began in earnest.
Joe Gomez, 70, a longtime Miner super fan, said Jones’ character on and off the field gives El Paso a good name.
“I’ve been following him since he was at UTEP, and he’s a very gracious, a very quietly gracious young man,” Gomez said.
And that Jones can connect those outside of El Paso to the city is a great boost to the borderland, he said.
“I think that even before he flashed the 915 sign, the announcers were talking about ‘Aaron Jones from UTEP,’ and ‘Aaron Jones from El Paso, Texas,’ and that alone brings such a good light to our community, especially for the people who have not been here before.”
Mustang to Miner
The fifth-round draft pick had 131 yards against New Orleans last week, two weeks after rushing for 125 yards in a victory over the Cowboys.
“I always felt like if I got a chance I was going to take it and make the most of it,” Jones said.
The “if I got a chance” line was always the operative question with Jones.
Despite putting up huge numbers as a Burges High School Mustang (more than 1,800 rushing yards his senior year), his only college offers were from UTEP, New Mexico State and UTSA.
A combination of El Paso’s remoteness from college recruiting trails and Jones’ size (he was 165 pounds as a high school senior; he’s 207 now) kept him from getting more offers.
“He was overlooked in the college recruiting game,” said his Burges coach Marcus Graham, who’s now at Socorro High School. “I sent video to everyone in the country. I called all the coaches I knew. He’s a real Cinderella story.”
Graham knew whoever got him was getting a great one, and indeed Jones set every UTEP rushing record in four years at the university.
“You never know, that he was going to go from a small, skinny 8th grader to where he is today, but you could see he was something special by his freshman, sophomore year,” Graham said. “He was always tremendously competitive.”
“He was the guy in practice who would always do whatever you asked him to do,” Graham continued. “He’s never been the fastest, the biggest — but he plays with tremendous heart. There are a lot of guys walking around the same size, but they didn’t have the fortitude.”
While he doesn’t yet have his UTEP kinesiology degree, he is still planning on getting it.
Fifth round draft picks generally have about a 50-50 chance of making a team — and making the roughly $500,000 a year slotted to fifth-round rookies — but again, Jones had a chance.
Jones got his opportunity to play when starting tailback Ty Montgomery injured his ribs earlier this year, and backup Jamaal Williams injured a knee.
While Montgomery is still officially the Packers’ No. 1, Jones appears to have supplanted him as the featured runner as NFL season nears the midpoint.
“It’s something you dream of,” said Jones, who didn’t carry the ball in the first two games but now is 19th in the league in rushing with 346 yards. “Coming in as a rookie, this is a blessing.”
In perhaps a bit of irony, his breakout was in Dallas, the team he rooted for growing up.
While his twin Alvin wasn’t there because of his UTEP commitments, the rest of his family was there, including his sister and his parents. His mom and dad go to every Green Bay and UTEP game.
“It was special being back in Texas,” the rookie Packer said. “My whole family was there.”
His brother saw him for the first time against New Orleans when UTEP had its bye week.
“That was a great experience, that was a lot of fun,” Alvin said.
After that earlier game against Dallas, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has since gotten hurt, praised Jones on ESPN.com.
“I told him before the game, I have absolutely zero worries about him back there,” Rodgers said. “He is a great kid. He’s a rookie, but his vision was fantastic. He gives you a lot of confidence that we can give him the ball on the last drive.”
“Not only does he get through the line and make a nice run, but the kid runs out of bounds,” Rodgers continued. “That’s stuff you can’t coach. You love the instincts there. He’s a talented guy. I’m really proud of him. Big step today for him.”
For Jones, the biggest surprise about transitioning to the NFL was not rooted in football. He was most surprised about the size of his new home: Green Bay, population 105,000.
“It’s a small city, I didn’t realize that until I got up there,” he said. “But I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Wednesday, though, Jones was back in a bigger city.
“It’s great seeing all the guys,” Jones said of UTEP’s practice. “I feel at home out here.”