Born to be a quarterback: After ‘summer of football,’ Jackson Jones ready to embark on potential special season as Tualatin’s signal-caller

One of the state’s best offenses is led by one of the state’s best talents — but it’s far more than talent alone that has made Jackson Jones one of the top quarterbacks in Oregon high school football.

By Dan Brood | Photos by Dan Brood

Sometimes, it seems like destiny has picked a path for you.

Then, it’s up to you to make the most of it.

It sure seems like Jackson Jones was destined to become a quarterback.

Now, the Tualatin senior-to-be is enjoying every second of it — and he is doing all he can to be the best quarterback he can be.

“I like having the ball in my hands every play, and I like being that leader,” Jones said while sitting in the grandstands at Tualatin High School last week. “When the game is on the line, everyone turns to you. I like the leadership level of it.”

He’s a leader with a rocket arm. And he’s been destined to be a quarterback for a long, long time.

“There are pictures of me when I was in kindergarten, holding a football and throwing the football, so I guess I was kind of brought up that way,” Jones said with a laugh. “I’ve been playing quarterback since third grade.”

Ever since, football has been a big thing — a really big thing — in Jones’ life.

“I imagine that Jackson goes to bed with football on his mind, and he wakes up with football on his mind,” Tualatin coach Dan Lever said.

Yes, Jones was brought up to be a quarterback. His father, Jake Jones, played quarterback at Tualatin in the 1990s, when Luke Staley, who went on to win the Doak Walker Award while playing at Brigham Young University, was the running back for the Timberwolves.

“Yeah, I’ve always played quarterback,” the younger Jones said.

That goes back to third grade, when he was playing youth football in Sherwood. It was in seventh grade that he started playing for the Tualatin youth football program.

“I played my seventh grade here at Tualatin and formed a real good relationship with everybody,” Jones said. “When it came time for high school, my parents told me I could stay in Sherwood or go to Tualatin, and I chose Tualatin.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Learning at Tualatin

When Jackson Jones began his high school career at Tualatin, he got to watch and learn from two standout signal-callers.

During Jones’ freshman year, Kyle Dernedde, now a starting infielder on the Oregon State baseball team, was the Timberwolves’ starting quarterback. During Jones’ sophomore year, Blake Jackson, another star multisport athlete, was Tualatin’s starting quarterback.

“It’s been a great experience,” Jones said. “We have a great coaching staff. My freshman and sophomore years, I was behind two really good quarterbacks who took me under their wings. It’s been a lot of fun.”

When he was a sophomore, Jones learned more than just quarterback techniques from Jackson, who also played linebacker for Tualatin.

“I learned about the mental aspect from Blake,” Jones said. “He was just an absolute animal, and fearless. He’s also a great leader. He taught me a lot about the leadership role.”

With Jackson playing on both sides of the ball and needing some breaks, Jones received varsity playing time at quarterback during his sophomore season.

“I think it was good for me to get some playing experience my sophomore year,” Jones said. “Here at Tualatin, we play some of the best teams around and get deep in the playoffs, so it was really good to get that experience of two or three drives a game.”

Jones still remembers his first offensive drive with the Timberwolves, coming in a 53-7 season-opening win over Lakeridge in a game played Sept. 6, 2019, at Tualatin High School.

“I’ll admit that first game, I was a little nervous,” Jones said. “I remember having to throw a deep ball to (current Oregon State linebacker) John (Miller). After that, and my first throws, the nervousness went away, and it was just excitement.”

In that first game, Jones completed 6 of 9 pass attempts for 65 yards.

That was just the start of something big. Jones played in every game that season for the 9-3 Timberwolves, including Tualatin’s Class 6A quarterfinal thriller at Jesuit.

“That helped give me confidence,” Jones said. “In the playoffs, against Jesuit, I got in. That was definitely a great experience to have. The speed of playing varsity football is a lot different from JV, so just getting that in my head was good.”

Taking over at QB

Jones was set to take over as Tualatin’s starting quarterback for the 2020 season.

Unfortunately, those plans were put on hold, as the COVID-19 pandemic led to the postponement of the 2020 fall campaign.

Jones and his Tualatin teammates weren’t about to become deterred or discouraged, however.

“Probably two times a week, all of us were out here on this field, training, hoping that we’d get the opportunity to play,” Jones said. “We probably did that starting from March 2020. I remember the day after school got shut down, we were all out here working.”

Jones is all about hard work.

“When you talk about great quarterbacks, you’re always talking about how hard they work,” Lever said. “And Jackson works extremely hard at his craft. He’s an extremely hard worker.”

Jones, and the rest of the Timberwolves, kept working and working. Then, finally, there was some promising news.

“It was weird, for sure,” Jones said. “When Gov. (Kate) Brown told us we could play, we had maybe a month to prep before our first game. My thoughts were definitely all over the place. There was definitely excitement to be able to play again, because it was way over a year since we played.”

The good news was there would be a 2021 spring football season. It would be a six-game season that was revised, with many regulations, with few, or no, fans in attendance. But, still, it was a chance to compete.

“We were just really happy that we got a chance to play,” Jones said.

That first spring game — with Jones starting at quarterback — didn’t go as the Timberwolves had hoped. Missing some key players, including star running back Malik Ross and receiver Peter Burke, Tualatin fell 37-6 at home against West Linn. The Lions would go on to post a 6-0 record, strongly making their case to be considered the state’s top team.

In that season opener, Jones completed 10 of 21 pass attempts for 61 yards.

But, as he seems to do with everything, Jones — as well as the Tualatin team — turned the setback into a learning experience.

“I definitely learned how to take a loss,” Jones said. “It was my first game as a starting varsity quarterback. The week after that game, in practice, our team really came together. We got a lot closer. Rather than dwelling on the loss, we decided to get ready for the next week, and we did that really well.”

They certainly did.

The Timberwolves bounced back to post a 41-28 home win over North Medford the following week. In that game, Jones completed 17 of 26 passes for 360 yards and five touchdowns, including three to fellow junior Cole Prusia.

The victory over the Black Tornado was the start of a four-game win streak for Tualatin. The Timberwolves followed with victories against Lakeridge (42-33), Oregon City (43-13) and rival Tigard (34-10).

“That season, and those games, it was a combination of all the work all of us did during COVID and during lockdown,” Jones said. “That’s something our group does well. We all like to work out. We’re all really, really close. That’s why this year could be super exciting.”

The win over the rival Tigers had extra meaning for Jones.

“The whole Tigard game, that was a combination of everyone’s hard work that week,” Jones said. “We all worked our tails off all week. I don’t think anyone took a rep off all week. That was a fun game. It was probably the funnest game I’ve ever been a part of.”

In that game, Jones completed 18 of 27 passes for 243 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

For the six-game season, Jones passed for 1,300 yards and 18 touchdowns. He shared all-Three Rivers League first-team quarterback honors with West Linn’s Blake DeBisschop.

“I think the big difference was confidence, knowing that I can make every throw on the field,” Jones said of the difference between his sophomore and junior seasons. “I feel like from my sophomore year to my junior year, my ability to see the whole field more improved a lot.”

The season didn’t end with a win for Tualatin, which fell 36-7 at Lake Oswego to finish the spring campaign.

But the already-inspired Timberwolves are using that setback as even more motivation as they get ready for the fall season.

“That feeling that we all had on the sideline at the end of that game has been our motivation for all the workouts all offseason,” Jones said.

Summer of football

Summer vacation? What summer vacation?

Aside from some time spent on the river, summer hasn’t been much of a vacation at all for the 6-foot, 190-pound Jones, at least when it comes to football — and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s definitely been crazy. It’s been a summer of football,” Jones said.

Football on the road, to be more exact.

“I’ve been traveling a lot,” Jones said. “I’ve been to (the University of) Washington. I went to a showcase in Dallas. I went to the (University of) Nevada camp and got MVP there. I’m going to Montana State on (July 23), and I did an unofficial visit to the University of Oregon.”

All of that traveling, and all of that football, is for a purpose — Jones is looking to take his game to an even higher level.

“This offseason, I’ve worked the most I’ve ever worked looking at coverages and defenses,” Jones said. “With my quarterback trainer, we’ve been working on coverages, and what’s going to be open against certain coverages. My goal is to be ahead of any defense, to know what they’re going to do, and where I’m going to go with the ball, before the play.”

There’s something else Jones said he’s learned this summer.

“I think I’ve learned what it’s going to take to win a state championship — all of the work that has to go into it, with our offseason workouts,” he said. “After this past season, I think we had one week off, which was spring break. Then we were right back at it, with workouts and lifting.”

Potential for greatness

Coming off a 4-2 season and with a strong group of talented players returning, you can’t blame Jones and his Timberwolves teammates for taking high hopes into the upcoming fall football season.

“We went on a good streak. It felt really good,” Jones said, referring to this past spring. “We were a super young team. So, all of that building into this year is going to be really big. I think we lost only two or three starters from our offense.”

That offense has the potential to be special this fall. Jones, of course, will be a major part of that potent attack.

“He’s been waiting for this season for a long, long time,” Lever said. “I think he’s going to have a great season. I see him being a good leader, and he’s not afraid to be a vocal leader.”

Tualatin returns three big, talented receivers in Prusia, who shared Three Rivers League offensive player of the year honors, as well as seniors-to-be Burke and Kellen Hale. The Timberwolves also bring back elusive senior-to-be Ross, a first-team all-Three Rivers pick at running back and kick returner.

“It’s pretty good. Those four right there, they’re pretty much my best friends,” Jones said. “So, I feel like we’re all super close and that we have a bond that no one else has. The trust I have in them, and the trust they have in me, is really good, and we can be super special this year.”

The Tualatin passing attack definitely looks like it could be super special, especially in the red zone.

“I think it makes my job easier. The height those guys have is insane,” Jones said with a smile. “They’re 6-4, 6-5 and 6-3, so I know that I can put it anywhere in the vicinity and they’ll go up and get it.”

Jones knows a solid offensive line also will make his job easier.

“Every day, I have to give all the credit in the world to those guys,” Jones said. “Each day in the weight room, they’re the hardest-working guys. They’re dripping sweat everywhere. I have no doubt in my mind that we’ll have the best line in the league, if not the state.”

Tualatin also appears to have potentially a strong group on defense, including Prusia, Richie Anderson, Jackson Biedrizky, Nico Webb, Ross, Hale, Max Clanton, Michael Harris, Noah Ogoli and Jack Wagner, among others.

The Timberwolves likely will need all of that talent as they navigate a challenging schedule. Tualatin will open the season Sept. 3 by traveling to Atherton, Calif., to face Menlo-Atherton, which went 5-0 in the spring. On Sept. 24, the Timberwolves will play host to West Salem, which went 6-0 last season. That’s before even jumping into the Three Rivers League gauntlet, which includes yet another team coming off a perfect season in West Linn, Lake Oswego and, of course, a regular-season-ending clash with Tigard.

“That will have us really well-prepared for the playoffs,” Jones said. “Those weeks where we play West Linn, Lake Oswego and Tigard, those are the three hardest games that anyone will play. And that first game will definitely be a tone-setter for the season.”

As for the Timberwolves’ ultimate goal, Jones won’t come out and say that they’re talking about a state championship … yet.

“It’s in the back of everyone’s mind, for sure,” he said with a smile. “It’s going to take everyone putting in 100-percent effort and not taking any plays off, and having a bond that’s unbreakable.”

Added Lever: “The sky is the limit for this team. All of the pieces are there. We just need to put in the work, and stay healthy, to get where we want to be. And Jackson can definitely help us get there.”

Sports, sports, sports

Jones comes from a family whose bond — especially when it comes to sports — looks to be unbreakable.

“I have the most supportive parents in the world,” Jones said. “That helps a lot.”

His dad isn’t the only former Tualatin athlete in the family — his mom, Jaime Jones (formerly Jaime Rainbolt), was a standout hurdler for the Timberwolves track and field team. His younger sister, Berkeley Jones, a Tualatin sophomore-to-be, is a member of the school’s volleyball program.

“We definitely push each other,” Jackson Jones said. “Any time you’re at our house, you’ll see sports on the TV.”

That athletic background sure has seemed to pay off for Jackson Jones. This summer, there was a video posted on Twitter of him throwing a football 70 yards at the University of Nevada camp.

“That wasn’t the farthest one,” Jones said. “The next one I threw was about 72 yards.”

Jones added that he’s always had a big arm when it comes to throwing a football.

“Ever since I first started playing football, I’ve always had an arm where everyone would turn around to look to see who threw that,” he said. “I feel like I’ve always been able to put an extra bit of gas on it. That feels pretty good.”

Yeah, it looks like Jackson Jones was definitely destined to become a quarterback.

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