Former Pro Bowl Running Back Thomas Jones is Enjoying Success in a New Field
After a four-year career at the University of Virginia, running back Thomas Jones enjoyed a very successful 12-year NFL career. Jones, a 1999 All-American and the eighth-place finisher in the Heisman Trophy voting, was selected seventh overall by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2000 NFL Draft.
He spent his 12 pro football seasons from 2000-2011 with the Cardinals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Chicago Bears, New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs, accumulating 10,591 yards and 68 touchdowns on the ground over his 125 starts (180 games). The former one-time Pro Bowler ran for back-to-back 1,300-yard, double-digit TD seasons with the Jets in ’08 and ’09 before finishing his career off with two seasons in Kansas City.
Since the end of his pro football career, Jones has launched a new career in the entertainment industry. In addition to launching Independently Major Entertainment (IME), a music and film production company, Jones has launched a career in acting, among numerous other off-field activities.
On Friday, Jones took time off from his busy schedule to speak with us regarding his football success and his blossoming acting career:
All-Out Blitz: We’ll start off with your football career. You played 12 seasons in the NFL, which is a very long time for not only a professional football player but especially for a running back. What would you attribute to being able to have such a long career?
Thomas Jones: “I took care of my body. I constantly stayed in the cold tub, stayed in the gym after practice and I watched a lot of film so that I was prepared. I avoided a lot of big hits, and I was really just able to understand where I was supposed to be. Guys get hurt when they’re out of position. I think with all those things mixed together, that’s how I was able to play for so long.”
AOB: With the NFL Draft about a month away, what were some of the biggest aspects of your pre-draft process that stuck out to you?
Jones: “The biggest part of it was just the preparation. How much goes into it. You can do so well during your season, make All-American, do all these things that make a great football player but you also have to understand the training that goes into it. I think that’s the biggest thing that stood out to me. A lot of guys will have a great year, and then they might not get drafted or they might be a late-round pick after dominating their conference. So it’s just pretty amazing how the Combine and Pro Days can really either take your draft status to another level or lower it.
There are guys that didn’t have a great season but ran a 4.2 (40-yard dash) and get drafted in the first round. It’s just amazing.”
AOB: If you could pick just one piece of advice to give to the young prospects preparing for the draft this year, what would it be?
Jones: “I’d tell them to prepare to go from being a college student to a professional. Because it’s a career now. You go from being on campus, being up late, having a good time with your friends, and things of that nature, to having to be an employee.
It gets really serious really quickly, and it kind of caught me off guard when I was drafted because Virginia, it’s a big party school, so we always had a lot of fun there. And once I was drafted it took me a little bit to realize this is the NFL. It’s a job. So I think a lot of guys, they don’t really hear that. They just hear the positives. But they really need to understand that once they get drafted and you sign a contract, it’s work. You’re an employee for whatever team you go to.”
AOB: In terms of the adjustment from college to the NFL, how long did it take you to get acclimated?
Jones: “It took me a while, because I had been in Virginia all my life and I was drafted by the Cardinals (selected 7th overall by the Arizona Cardinals in 2000). So I was three hours behind my family and friends. So yeah, it was a culture shock. There’s a lot of adjustments, and I was somewhere I really didn’t want to be.”
AOB: You were a top 10 pick by the Cardinals in the 2000 NFL Draft. What was it like when you finally heard your name called and you realized you would be living out your dream?
Jones: “It was an amazing feeling. Not only was I drafted, but I was the seventh pick overall and I was at the draft. My phone rang and it was a 602 area code so I knew it was Arizona. They called me and were like ‘get ready to be a Cardinal.’ It was bittersweet, because I didn’t want to have to go that far away from my family, but at the same time I thought ‘wow, this is really happening to me.’
It was just an unbelievable moment. I walked up on the stage, met (then-commissioner) Paul Tagliabue, got my jersey, had my family behind me, and it was just an amazing experience. It’s something that’s kind of hard to put into words.”
AOB: Obviously you had a very successful football career, but since your playing days came to an end you’ve also been very busy. You founded Independently Major Entertainment (IME), so you’re now starting to get into the entertainment business and getting an acting career started as well. First off, could you tell us a little bit about your company IME?
Jones: “Yes. I started it in 2010. I actually started it earlier than that, but I changed the name in 2011. I started working with a bunch of artists, because I really love music. When I retired (in 2012) I added a film division, IME Films, and started working on a documentary called The NFL: The Gift or The Curse? It’s a documentary series that revolves around NFL players outside of football. I started working on that project, I started working on another project in Miami––a pilot episode for a drama series called The Lake. It was basically like The Wire, but the Miami version. I acted in it and produced it, and I started to really find that acting was something you kind of detox from football. I really started to think maybe this is something I should be doing when I retire, since I don’t have a wife or kids or anything. So I signed with an agency and started going to auditions. The first role I booked was on Shameless on Showtime.
I don’t really watch TV, so I don’t really know who a lot of the actors are. For me, it was different from the sports world, and they (the actors) don’t really know who I am either. So it was cool because it was just a mutual respect for each other and once I started to really know what I’m doing, I thought ‘wow these people are really accomplished actors’ because I really wasn’t an actor when I was trying it out. Then I got cast for a few other projects, including Being Mary Jane, starring Gabrielle Union. That’s when it really hit me ‘okay wow, you’re doing this for real now. If you didn’t think you were an actor before, you’re an actor now.’
I started to take it really serious last year. I was cast in the Straight Outta Compton movie, which comes out in Theaters August 14. And I’m producing some scripts and working on my documentary right now. Also launching an app called CASTAR Applications. At CASTAR Applications we make mobile apps, websites and 3D printing. Our first app that’s on the market is called CASTAR. It’s a social networking app that allows you to promote yourself. You can upload six photos and six minute full-screen video. No matter what it is you’re doing, it’s not just for entertainment. Anything.”
AOB: Now that you’ve transitioned from the sports world to the entertainment world, are there a lot of big similarities and/or differences between the two industries?
Jones: “They’re pretty much the exact same. To be honest, the only difference is I’m not getting my ass kicked every day…unless it’s a fight scene. But from an emotional standpoint, as a football player you’re an actor. Most people on Sundays, they’re relaxed. They’re with their families, going to church. So, as a football player, at 10 a.m. through the entire game, I have to make myself angry, and I have to be this character. I’m T.J. off the field, but I’m Thomas Jones #20 on the field. So you’re an actor, and there’s a lot of raw emotion that you bring out as a football player which is similar to an actor.
You can’t be vulnerable or show weakness in football, but in real life you’re going to have those moments and it’s really helped me get away. When I played football I was a different type of person. I was very physical. I played very aggressively, and was tense a lot. I was team captain, so I had guys that were 330 pounds looking at me saying ‘tell me what to do.’ I’m 5’10″/220-pounds. So I’ve got guys that are over 100 pounds more than me, and I’m telling them what to do. So you have to be a merciless kind of person (as a football player), and that’s what I was. And now, I’m not like that anymore.”
AOB: When it comes to the NFL, or any professional sport for that matter, the players pretty much dedicate every ounce of time and effort they have into the game. Many of them have played the game for a majority of their lives. So once their playing days are over with, sometimes they’re not fully prepared to enter back into the real world. Do you think there’s something that can be done (whether it’s the league that does it or not) to help players better prepare for life after football?
Jones: “Football is one of the few jobs where you have a short lifespan. As an actor, musician, blogger…you can do that forever. No one can tell you you can’t, but as a football player it’s not up to you. As an athlete it’s up to that team. Whether you’re not producing or they don’t want to pay you, most people retire at 25. Retirement is more than just a word, it’s a state of mind. To play in the NFL you have to think you’re going to play for 20 years in order to stay. You have to think you’re going to play that long just to get you a chance to play for five years. It’s just that type of job.
So I’m not sure if the NFL can do anything, but I would just tell the younger players: find something else you love as well, and use the NFL as a trampoline, not quicksand. Don’t get caught up in the NFL, it’s a platform. It’s someone else’s though––the owners are businessmen. It’s their job. Their job is to make money. If you win a Super Bowl along the way, it’s great too, but they have to make money first. You’re a product, that’s just the business. It’s not personal. But you have to be able to take full advantage of the platform that the NFL provides for you and promote yourself and whatever else it is that you’re doing. That’s what I would tell a lot of younger guys, they really need to pay attention when they come into the NFL.”
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You can keep up with Thomas’ post-football life and career moves by following him on Twitter (@ThomasJonesRB), checking out his personal website or visiting the links below:
Photo: Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports