Defensive back Dominic Jones, 28, is in his fourth Arena Football League season and third with the Cleveland Gladiators. So far in 2015, he’s having another great season as his 7-6 Glads are in a good position to sneak into the AFL postseason with five weeks left in the regular season.
A few days ago Dominic was nice enough to take time out of his busy schedule to speak with us over the phone regarding his AFL career and a few of his off-field endeavors such as charity work, motivational speaking and mentoring the youth.
All-Out Blitz: We’ll start out with the football-related questions. After coming off a record-setting 2014 season (17-1 regular season record and an ArenaBowl appearance), you’re off to a 7-6 start and in line to make a postseason appearance. How do you feel like you’ve responded, as a team, after last year’s heartbreak (ArenaBowl loss to Arizona)?
Dominic Jones: “In sports, any time you have a successful team you want to keep a lot of guys together. You start dealing with free agency and guys have the option to go different places, so it’s hard to keep the same guys together. We had guys leaving, going to the NFL, going to the CFL. But at the end of the day, anybody that was on that 17-1 team last year would tell you that we would rather have gone 9-9 and won the ArenaBowl rather than 17-1 and lost it. So I think that’s the same attitude we have this year. We’re just focused on getting into these playoffs. We’re not concerned about the record. Once you get there (the playoffs), it’s a new season, anything could happen. We just need to win three after that.”
AOB: As you mentioned, you’d rather have gone 9-9 and won the ArenaBowl. But during the 2014 season while you were winning those 17 games, did you guys feel you had something special going on?
Jones: “Yeah we felt we had something special. The team chemistry that we had, and we weren’t hit by the injury bug as much last year as we’ve been hit by it this year. I think I’ve maybe missed four or five games this year myself. It takes a lot to keep a group together, and it’s tough to go 17-1. A lot of things have to go right, and we had some lucky bounces go our way. It’s truly a game of inches, and we won those inches last year. And we’ve lost some inches this year in a couple of games.”
AOB: In the next five weeks you have two big match-ups with Philadelphia (11-2), who are right now the best team in the Conference record-wise. Have you felt that it’s been hard not to look ahead on the schedule to the two Philly games, especially after the loss to them earlier in the season?
Jones: “Well when we played against them earlier this year, they pretty much beat us in every phase of the game. We’ll be the first to tell you that. We just felt like that team completely out-played us. Last year we beat them three times, and it was in heart-break fashion. So coming into this year we knew that they were anxious to get back at us, and rightfully so. We’re anxious to get back at them too. I think that’s what makes the rivalry between us so good. You have a lot of good players on both sides, but this is a new rivalry over the last few years. I think it’s going to be one of the best rivalries in the arena football. We’re definitely looking forward to playing those guys. Obviously it’s one game at a time, we gotta take care of our business this week against Jacksonville.”
AOB: At 7-6, do you feel like you have been overlooked––even though you’re the defending conference champs––by people this year?
Jones: “San Jose is playing very well right now, there’s an Arizona team that’s still the top of the league and handling business and the Philadelphia Soul is hot. Rightfully so, those teams deserve a lot of attention, because they all know how to win. But we have very capable players over here. We have a winning pedigree over here, and I think that’s working good for us. To be able to play the games we’ve played this year. We’ve played against the best teams in the league, and have an above .500 schedule. I think it’s only going to build us up for the playoff run. So as much teams may be overlooking us, we’ll gladly accept it. We just want to be able to perform when the time comes, and that’s the playoffs. We’ll see what happens.”
AOB: In addition to playing in the AFL for the past four years, you’ve been pretty busy off-the-field as well, doing charity work, motivational speaking and mentoring the youth. Can you start out by telling us a little bit about some of the work you’ve been doing recently?
Jones: “Yeah, like you said, last few years I’ve been playing in the AFL and being a role model has become that much more important to me. As athletes we have a pedestal that we’re put on and we have a responsibility to always give back, to always go out and try to help the next person. We’re treated a little bit different, and kids will listen to what I have to say (as a professional athlete). I just think it’s important, coming from where I come from, we didn’t have a whole lot of successful people that were coming back. We didn’t have professional athletes that took the time out to come back and come on our level. So that’s something I take pride in, no matter how much success I have, to always remain humble and go back and try to help out.
So when I get the opportunity to speak to high school teams, college teams––I’ve been able to speak to Ohio State, and other universities in the state of Ohio as well. So we’re just trying to continue to give back, and let them know how 10 second decisions can ultimately change your life. With the kids, you just wanna go around and give back to them as much as I can, and expose them to things I never got exposed to when I was a kid.”
AOB: How have you been able to balance all of your off-field endeavors and still be able to perform at a high level during the football season––because it’s a pretty long season?
Jones: “It’s an extremely long season. I have people help me, who want to see me succeed and help me out. There are multiple ways as far as scheduling things, proper timing. Usually Mondays are more of a relaxed day for me, so a lot of things I try to schedule on Monday. Usually we’re done with practices by 12 or 1 o’clock, so that gives me the rest of the afternoon. I always say, if I take an hour or two out of my day, that’s an hour or two to help change kids’ lives. So I just look at it from that perspective, because that doesn’t cost me anything. It doesn’t cost me anything but my time.”
AOB: We just have one last question for you. Do you have any advice for young players that are looking to make a living in football, whether that’s the NFL, AFL or CFL?
Jones: “You’re not just going to play football all your life. What happens if tomorrow you get hurt––a career-ending injury––somebody’s going to come through that’s bigger, that’s stronger, or maybe some young athlete is just better than you. This game is going to end one day, and so if an athlete I just challenge the young athletes and ask them ‘if the game is going to end today, what would you do for the rest of your life?’ I figured out my purpose, I want to lead people. If I can help save people’s lives, I can talk to kids, I can give back for the rest of my life, and I find grace in that. So I always encourage young athletes of any sport, to just always think about life after sports. So many times athletes will get caught up in the now of playing the game. So that’s usually my message to kids.”
You can check out Dominic’s personal website at IamDominicJones.com, or follow him on Twitter. And also be sure to catch a few Cleveland Gladiators games as we approach the AFL playoffs in the coming weeks.