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Rookie D-Lineman Jones Gets the Call

The odds that Aki Jones would make an NFL roster? They appeared to be remote, far-fetched, improbable to say the least.




Just don't try telling Aki Jones that.

On Thursday, the Redskins, unfortunately, had to place veteran defensive tackle Brandon Noble on the injured reserve list, owing to his latest knee injury.

With Noble sidelined, Jones begins the most unlikely of journeys as an NFL player.

The 6-4, 297-pound rookie is a product of Christ the King High School in Queens, New York. He was All-League, All-City and All-Queens at the high school level. After representing Queens, he spent a year at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, then returned to New York to play at Division I-AA Fordman in the Patriot League, not regarded as a particular proving ground for NFL talent.

Yet, in NFL circles, Fordham is recognized as Vince Lombardi's school. The legendary Green Bay head coach directed the Redskins to a 7-5-2 season in 1969.

No one ever wanted and needed to make the Redskins more so than Aki Jones, a big bear of a young man who sports rich dreadlocks.

He had this to say Thursday after practice, as he sported his new No. 94: "This is just another step for me. I want to get to the point where my coaches and teammates say, 'Aki's on the field. We know he can get the job done.'"

The story goes that one day this spring the undrafted defensive lineman showed up at Redskins Park in Ashburn, Va., certainly culture shock for a young athlete from Queens.

Problem was, when Jones arrived, the facility was shut down for the night. He simply put his bags on a parking lot stoop and decided to sleep until the next morning. That's how bad Aki Jones wanted to make sure he did not miss his first official day as a Redskins candidate.

Dave Pauken, the Redskins' chief operating officer, remembers leaving the building late that June night, around 10:30 p.m. He stumbled on to a player sleeping in the parking lot.

"So I asked him who he was and what he was doing," recalls Pauken. "He said he wanted to be Redskin so bad that he was willing to sleep in the parking lot in order not to miss his first interview."

Pauken helped Jones get situated in a nearby hotel and gave him a ride to the office the next morning, in time for his first encounter with head coach Joe Gibbs.

"I just couldn't believe how much this guy wanted to make our team," said Pauken. "I told him, 'With an attitude like you have, I'm challenging you to make our team. With your attitude, you might make the Hall of Fame.'"

Jones brings some skills to the table. In three seasons at Fordham, he produced 16 sacks.

But what Aki Jones brings to the table more than talent is heart and a willingness to persevere.

"That story about me sleeping in the parking lot? It's been blown out of proportion," Jones said with a laugh. "I just arrived here at the wrong time. What was I supposed to do?"

In college, against opponents such as Lehigh, Bucknell and Georgetown, Jones was briefly a two-way lineman before settling in at defensive tackle. Since coming to the Redskins, he's been surprised at how well he's been treated by NFL veterans.

"I thought they would look at me as some soft Division 1-AA kid," he said. "But that hasn't been the case. Players like Brandon [Noble] and Griff [Cornelius Griffin]? They're so smart about this game, they know the play before the ball's snapped. This defensive line is a bunch of cool guys, even the young guys like [Ryan] Boschetti and Chris Clemons."

Asked to explain what it means to go from the practice squad to the 53-man roster, Jones gave this response: "I really don't know how to respond to that. This is just another step in my career. I want to prove that I can be a contributor on the field."

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