Dr. Dan Peterson is joined by ECS alum Barrett Jones. Barrett played football at the University of Alabama, winning three National Championships, and then went on to play for several teams in the NFL.
DP: Welcome to the ECS Equip podcast, a podcast for our K-12 school community. Thinking and teaching in light of a Christian worldview. We cover a host of issues. And I'm so excited. It's a beautiful fall day - sunshine, crisp fall air. And the fall is one of my favorite times of year. It's football time. And we've been in ECS football, we've got college football, SEC football. I'm a huge SEC football guy, Tennessee football guy. I'm very excited about our guest today.
Our guest today is notable alumni Barrett Jones. Barrett is an incredible man of God first and foremost, a high character individual. Very intelligent and a gifted athlete. He is an '08 graduate from here. He played football at Alabama from '08 - '12. He won three national championships, two SEC championships, and he received the 2011 Outland Trophy, which is for the best interior lineman in NCAA football for that year. And then went on to have a very successful professional career with the St. Louis Rams, Steelers, Chicago Bears, and the Philadelphia Eagles. He's the son of Rex Jones and Leslie. Rex was our former Director of Advancement. And he's the brother to Harrison and Walker. So welcome, Barrett!
BJ: Dan, thanks for having me man! I appreciate everything you said other than the fact that you're a Tennessee fan. I did not know that about you.
DP: Well I wanted to surprise you with that.
BJ: Thank you for that ambush! I am feeling good though. Riding high off of a few weeks ago. I did go down to Knoxville to observe that beating.
DP: Beat down.
BJ: It was a beat down.
DP: Yeah I think we were like a middle school team compared to you guys.
BJ: That was tough. I felt kind of bad, honestly, for you guys.
DP: Well I thought I'd start with a little surprise. I'm a big Volunteer. There's not much to brag about. I don't even think it's a rivalry at this juncture.
I feel like I've tried to tackle you in here. You're so popular in our ECS community. These teachers saw you and they just love you. The countenance of people's faces lighting up when they see Barrett Jones walk in a building.
BJ: I love this place. It's very special to me, and what makes it special - you nailed it - it's the people. There's so many special people here who I have such a great relationship with and who invested so much time. A lot of times I'm sure had to pain through my incessant talking. I just saw a few of my teachers out there and they were reminding me how much I liked to talk during their classes. I really had such a great experience here and wouldn't trade it for anything.
DP: How did that talking go with Coach Saban? I'm sure he didn't put up with it.
BJ: No, I didn't talk much when he was talking. He kind of had a little bit of a different countenance. When he started talking, no one else talked. Actually a few times, if guys ever were talking, even like not looking him directly in the eye, he would just call people out during the meeting and go over and yell at them. I think that eliminated the distraction and you better be looking at him when he's talking and certainly not talking. He's very strict about that.
DP: One of the most fantastic things for me coming here as the new Head of School President has been meeting our alumni. We've got incredible alumni serving all over the world really. I'm curious to talk about how ECS prepared you for life. You obviously had a unique path. Not many people go on to play professionally and play college - we have a lot of college athletes, a great legacy of college athletes. But you played a super high level. I'm curious, how did ECS prepare you for that, for your life over the last several years?
BJ: Like I said, overall just to start, I had a tremendous experience here. So many of my best friends that went here with me are still my best friends today. So first of all, how did it equip me? It gave me great friends. I think it's so important in life to have those guys you can lean on as accountability partners. Those people that walk through life with you. That have the same value system as you do and who understand some of the things you're going through. And so that was probably, first and foremost, the greatest thing ECS gave me were those lifelong friends that I could lean on. But, I think also equipping with a Christian worldview. I know that's maybe cliche cause that's obviously what ECS is all about. I don't think you realize how valuable that is until you get out in the world and you realize that life is a lot different than it is between these walls. Sometimes I really miss that. I miss how great it was in here. But the world is a scary place and getting scarier every day. And if you really don't have that foundation of a Christian worldview, and you don't understand exactly how Christ fits into every part of life, then you can be easily swayed by things that are not true. So I think you've got to learn how to recognize truth out there. And that's something ECS taught me how to do - recognize what is the truth, what do I really believe, why do I believe it. They encouraged me to ask questions and not just believe this because we said so. They taught me all kinds of things about developing my own worldview and kind of make my faith my own. That's probably the coolest thing. It wasn't just preaching and teaching at me, it was eventually somewhere along the way, it became my own and I really believed it. And throughout life that's been huge because you're going to be faced with a lot of crucial decisions when you leave this place. Even if you aren't a college athlete. Obviously I was always around very interesting people in college and in the NFL. There's a ton of interesting people in the NFL as you can imagine. So you just have to be ready, you have to be equipped, and you have to know what you believe. Because if you don't and you get out there and you're not really sure, you'll probably go back on who you are.
DP: Tell me a little bit about some of your primary influencers that were here during your time here. When did you start at ECS?
BJ: I was a thirteen year club guy.
DP: Oh man. We need to give you a gift or something. I think Sam might have something for you.
BJ: Give my parents the gift for going all the way through. Honestly, I'm not exactly sure why. I think my parents looked around. One thing was we lived out in Germantown, and right by our house was the lower school. It was actually meeting at Grace Evan at the time. You might not have even known that. It was before we even moved into the Forest Hill building. But yeah, I just started going there. I started loving it. My brothers followed. And it was probably the greatest decision of my childhood that my parents could make for me because it turned out pretty awesome.
DP: One of the things I really believe is, a lot of schools will advertise themselves as being a college preparatory school, and think that's a myopic view of education. We really want to be life prep. We want to prepare them to go to the next level, to go to college. But we're not just about preparing for the next four years. We're about preparing for a lifetime. And so, talk a little - I'm just intrigued by the fact that you were taught to ask questions. We really want you to be a thinking person, thinking about the world you live in and how to make sense of all of the stuff that's coming at us constantly.
BJ: I think we've seen, especially with our generation of millennials, that if we just try to dump knowledge in people that it really doesn't work. Even further, just to the general Christian model, I think we've found out that in the Christian life that showing up, going to church, dumping knowledge and receiving knowledge, it really doesn't create disciple-making Christians. That's not really how it works. You have to that discipleship relationship of having someone walk alongside you and massage that truth until it becomes a reality in your life. And I think it's the same way with the teachers here. It's not like they just sit up on their pulpit every week and talk down at you. It's a relationship. So many people here had an influence on me. The list is so long it's hard to even know where to start. Coach Collums is a guy who had a tremendous influence on me. A guy who was one of the greatest men I've ever been around and had a chance to meet. I think that's another great point: the people here don't just talk about what they believe, they live it out. Students see that and they know what kind of people that their teachers are. They know that if it's real to you or if it's a job. I think to a lot of the teachers here it's not just a job it's a calling. Something they really have felt called to do. It's not secret, they might could be making more money somewhere else. So they're here for a reason, and it's to equip us to go out into the world and understand that truth. So they want to be here and that makes a huge difference. It's hard to explain how big of a difference that makes when the teachers are really invested in the students and they are looking for ways to invest. The list of people who influenced me is so long. Coach Heinz and Coach Tippett who's still here. Those guys are two I obviously spent a ton of time with. There's just so many great men and women here who had such an impact on my life. Not just from what they taught me but from what they modeled about what it looks like to be a Christian man and woman in the world.
DP: When you left ECS, you went to Alabama and then on to the NFL. You mentioned at the beginning of our time together the importance of community and friends to network. Obviously going on from here, you established more friends. I'm just curious, is that something you sought? Or did it kind of come to you? Because I think that's important to our graduates. We're in the presence of a few podcast interns that we have, and in a few years they're going to be launched out. What does look like for you once you left here? I think one of the greatest pieces of advice my dad ever gave me was in high school. I was really struggling with some things. He said, "Dan, your friends can make or break you." And I think about that. I had put myself around some people that weren't the greatest influences, and that just changed some of the trajectory and some of the friends. Not that we shouldn't have people that don't know Jesus around us. That's very important. But who you surround yourself with is very important.
BJ: It was actually a challenge for me, to be honest. I went to Alabama. Alabama is a place - first of all, I love Alabama. I would talk about it for the whole podcast if you don't make me stop.
DP: I would make you stop.
BJ: (Laughs) It's very much an SEC college. There's a full myriad of people in it. There's great people, there's a lot of people that are just there to party and have a good time. You can pretty much get whatever you want there, like most colleges. So I went and it was a huge adjustment for me obviously. I didn't really know one person. I guess I had two girls from my grade from here go there, but wasn't really super close with them. So I didn't really know hardly anyone when I went there. And I was just thrown into this environment of football and a lot of the guys were living a very different life than me, so it was definitely a challenge. What I kind of found and what I encourage students to do now in college, is I got involved in a college ministry. I got involved in Campus Crusade at the time, now it's called Cru. That's where I met a lot of my really great friends who I'm still friends with today. There's a lot of different ways to get involved and a lot of programs you can do. I've heard a lot of different methods of finding people. I just want to encourage every college student that there are great people at your college. They're just a little harder to find. I found some amazing, great friends. Christian accountability guys who are brothers to me know who if I ever get married someday, a lot of them will be in my wedding. You know, they're out there. Don't be disheartened. Because freshman year can be a really tough time. Moving on to moving to a new city. I've moved to a new city like four times now and that can be really tough as well. That can be tough not knowing anyone. But you just have to take it one day at a time. Pray, obviously. I prayed my freshman year. I was like, "God, send me Christian friends." And He did. I just think it's a one step at a time process.
DP: Let's talk a little bit about faith and football. How did your faith in Christ inform your football and vice-versa? What ddi that look like for you as a believer in Christ playing football, especially at a high level?
BJ: It was a challenged at first. Whenever I share my testimony I talk a lot about how even in high school I was certainly a Christian, but football was very important to me and for a while in my life became the most important thing in my life. Especially when I got to college. If you've ever been down to Alabama, there's not a whole lot going on down there other than college football. I love Alabama and I'm kind of a partial Alabaman now, but they love college football down there. They really love it. It's really kind of a religion to a lot of people. It's the most important thing in their lives day to day. And when I got down there, I started to buy into that. And it really kind of consumed me and it sort of became my identity. I think it's been a challenge for me to constantly remind myself that that's not my identity. For a while in my life I was a football player who happened to be a Christian instead of a Christian who happened to play football. One of my favorite verses is John 6:35. It says, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never hunger and he who believes in me will never thirst." I've found that verse to be so true in my life. I had this experience where my redshirt freshman year we won the national championship. I kind of accomplished everything I had come to college to accomplish. I had this "what now?" moment. What's next in my life. I did everything I wanted to do here in the first year. I found that the world, as great as it looks sometimes - and again football is a good thing, it's not really a bad things - it's just not satisfying, if that's what you're looking to for your joy and your satisfaction. I found out that truly Christ is the only thing that can satisfy you. And I know that sounds elementary and it's something that I'd heard a thousand times. But I really had to experience that to fully understand that it's not just about Jesus being your savior, it's also about Him being the Lord of your life. And the most important thing in your life is your relationship with him.
DP: It's funny you mention that. I had no athletic prowess that you did, but I was a soccer player in college at a D-II school. Soccer was so important to me that it became my god and was the idol of my heart. And God really humbled me through some different circumstances. I see the trajectory of my life from that point on and how things just totally changed. How I was able to utilize the gift that God had given me for His glory. The Gospel is a platform for discipleship.
BJ: That's the exact experience I've had too. The next year I kind of had that experience, of just like, "What is the purpose in my life? What am I really doing this for?" And God showed me this is the platform that I've given you to glorify me. As God often does, He just immediately began to open doors for me. I can remember a week after we won that National Championship, I got a call from some random person and they asked me, "Would you come speak at our church just for five minutes?" You know how sometimes there's a speaker before the speaker? Well that was me. I was the speaker before the speaker. I was the testimony. So I was like five minutes, this should be no problem. Public speaking, I'd never really done it, but how hard could it be? I'm a good conversationalist. And so I get up there and I prepared what I thought was a really good five minute talk. I don't exactly remember what happened, I just remember two minutes later I was sweating everywhere and walking off the stage. I guess I didn't bomb it, but to me it felt like I bombed it. So, that was my first experience. For some reason, people kept asking me to come and speak. Long story short, God has opened up some incredible doors for me to share the Gospel. And being a, at the time 21 or 23 year old, I've been in some places where no 21 year old should have ever been invited. The only reason I was invited was obviously because of football, It was cool to think about all of these adult men and women who really cared what I had to say. I'm not saying that to raise me up, I'm just saying it was an opportunity. Because of football I got to share the Gospel with the people and they're going to listen to what I have to say. So I tried to take advantage of that. I've been all around the world now in probably seven or eight different countries. I've gotten to share the Gospel there. Obviously around the United States, especially the south, I've gotten to preach at many different churches and board retreats and all kinds of different things I've been invited to. All because of football. So it's like you said, God use your talents. I'm not saying that necessarily He's going to raise everyone up to be on that platform. I'm not honestly sure why He chose me to raise me up in that way. But I do believe that that's why this whole football thing happened was because of the influence I could have. Even just on a smaller level, there's so many kids that look up to me. I'm not saying this to pump myself up, I'm just saying that's a big responsibility. It's something I take really seriously, of how much these kids when they see me and meet me how excited they are. They're so shapable and formable. If I can just pour some truth into their life and tell them that this is all great but Jesus is so much better than any of this stuff. It's a cool opportunity to have.
DP: What are some of your most memorable moments as a football player. You've played in some huge games. You're one of the most decorated college football players of all time in the terms of success that your team had while you were there. What are some of the most memorable games or moments?
BJ: Let's start locally. My first memorable game, not in a ranking but just in a timeline, would be my freshman year at ECS. I played in the State Championship game against Briarcrest. I played defensive end at the time and went against Michael Oher. I was the same height, but I was 220 probably. And now I weigh 305. So, he crushed me. He really did. I made two tackles. One of our defensive ends got hurt in the first quarter, so I played the rest of the game against Michael Oher the whole game. It was a wild experience. They beat us in the State Championship. Hugh Freeze was the coach actually. And so that was first. And then the next year we went back to the State Championship and beat Knoxville Webb. That was obviously very memorable. And then the next year after that we went again to the State Championship and lost on a last second 48 yard field goal.
Moving on to college, probably my favorite game in college was the 2009 SEC championship game. It was against Florida. They had beaten us the year before in 2008, my redshirt year. And then that was my first year to start and it was a revenge game sort of. The whole season we had been wanting to play Florida and get a shot at Tebow. Sure enough, we went undefeated and got a chance to play them. And we beat them up pretty good. And I like Timmy a lot, but he cried that game. A lot of people might remember that. He was over on the sidelines crying. Again Timmy is a friend, but that was pretty awesome.
DP: You're kind of emphasizing the fact that he cried.
BJ: That was a great moment. I've talked to him about it. He remembers. It's not a laughing matter still for him. He was very upset.
DP: I remember watching that game. Y'all were so determined. I could tell you were a team on a mission to beat the Gators that game.
BJ: We were.
DP: The year before I watched Tebow and how he led their team back to beat you all and that was a team on a mission. It was just interesting. It was kind of the tale of two seasons.
BJ: It was sort of like just a changing of the guard in the SEC and we really have never given it back. Urban kind of had that breakdown after that and left and went to Ohio State later. A lot of things came of that game. It was just a great game to be a part of.
And obviously the first National Championship playing against Texas and Colt McCoy. He actually got hurt, everyone reminds me all the time. What if Colt McCoy hadn't gotten hurt? That's what all the Texas fans always say. But that was a lot of fun to win the first National Championship. And they were all fun, but that one was probably the most memorable.
DP: Well I moved from Austin, Texas, and they still talk about that game quite a bit there in the circle I was in.
Well let's talk a little about next steps for you. You're kind of at a crossroads. So you went on to the NFL and that's kind of winding down now. And I think what's really a credit to you is you received your Undergraduate and Masters during your time at Alabama. I think that's a real credit to hard work. I've always said when I coached teams that hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard. But if you've got talent and you work hard, that's a really good combination. So what's next for you?
BJ: That's a great question. What's next for me? I've been praying through that and trying to figure it out. I'm probably done with the NFL. Probably done with football. I guess I'm washed up. My dad like to remind me that I'm an unemployed vagrant right now just kind of out there searching. It's embarrassing to admit, I'm currently living in my parent's house as well. I just got rid of my place in Philly. I'm just kind of evaluating what's next. It's hard to pick a career. I'm really about to start the actual process. I've been seeing if I can get on another NFL team. It hasn't really worked out. So, I'm probably about to start the process of figuring out what I want to do. I have a lot of interests. Like you said, I got my degree in accounting actually, my Masters. It might sound impressive. I redshirted, so I was there for five years. And you have to go to school year round if you play football, so you have to go to every summer sessions. So, it was really not that special. A lot of people get a Masters. But thank you for that compliment. So business is obviously interesting to me. I've been looking at some TV things. I've kind of done that throughout my time there at Alabama and the league. I still do a few radio shows weekly in Birmingham. I'm just trying to consider and pray through what God wants me to do. I don't have a family. I don't have anyone I have to immediately support. So I have some time to kind of just sit back and not relax but take my time in making this decision and figure it out. It's a big one. It's important. Just figure out what I want to do for the 30 or 40 years or so. I'm kind of experiencing what lot of people my age experienced three or four years ago. This feeling of having to go get a real job now. I mean football is a very tough job in a lot of ways, with the travel and the lifestyle. And during the season it is a 80 hour a week job. But, you get to do something you love which is fun. But now I've got to go out and find some gainful employment.
DP: Well I'm excited to see where the Lord leads you. I think you'll recognize five, ten, fifteen years down the road, you may not be doing the same thing at that juncture as you though you would be. I've seen that in my own life. And that's ok. God steers our steps. We plan our steps but He is the one who directs it, according to the Proverbs.
BJ: That's my number one priority. I just want to be obedient and find out where God has me. I've been praying through that and trying to figure out where He wants me to be. I want to be in a place where I can continue to have an impact for His kingdom and hopefully just have some great opportunities to make His name known. So I'm excited.
DP: I just want to close by saying I'm so appreciative of you coming in to spend some time with us on the podcast. There's so much I could say about who you are as a man. I really appreciate your family. I really love getting to know your dad. I know we do a St. Louis trip . One of the coolest things I've heard is when our fifth graders do this St. Louis trip you would come visit them. You would take some time and come and spend some time with them. And the fact that you would give of yourself in very busy season as an NFL player. And you do that time and again. That's just one little micro story of so many things. You just need to understand that ECS loves you and is proud of you. You're always a part of our community. I'm really excited about your next steps.
BJ: Well, thank you. I know I've said it throughout the podcast. I just want to one more time reemphasize how much I love this place and how much of an impact it had on who I am as a person. Not only what it taught me, but the people who influenced my life and invested in me. I'm so grateful for it. Hopefully if I live here someday, and I'm not going say assure you, but there's a really strong chance that I would hope my kids would have the same experience by going to ECS. I am definitely a very willing endorser because of the experience I had at this place. You know, a lot of people say if I could go back to one time in my life, some people say college, some people say different times in their life. For me it was high school. High school was up to this point still the greatest time in my life. Just having so many amazing people around me. Obviously not as much responsibility. It was just a great time in a great place. And I'm just so grateful for you and for all the people who help make it that was.
DP: Well Tennessee has the Colquitt punters. Maybe we can have the Jones football players as part of our legacy.
BJ: Well if I could get both of my brothers to move here, we could get them going. We could start to rival the Tashie clan someday.
DP: Well thanks for coming. KO KO. Keep on keeping on. Soli Deo Gloria