By Jaylon Thompson / The Alliance
ATLANTA — Moments after scoring the first touchdown in Atlanta Legends history, receiver Malachi Jones pointed to the sky.
Before the celebratory emotions and his teammates consumed him, Jones simply nodded his head and smiled. The touchdown meant more than six points.
“This one was for dad,” Jones said.
See Jones and the rest of the Atlanta Legends in action as they host the Birmingham Iron on Sunday, February 24, in a game scheduled for 4 p.m. ET at Georgia State Stadium. The game can be seen on CBS Sports Network. Buy tickets here.
“My dad means everything to me,” Jones said. “He is the sole reason that I go so hard and work to where I want to be.”
Jones lost his late father, Andre Jones, in 2011. The elder Jones played in the NFL and before that was a part of the 1988 Notre Dame Fighting Irish national championship team. He starred in college and inspired Malachi to be the best player on the field.
“My dad was like a dreamer and he saw things years ahead of his time,” Jones said. “He would do everything to mold us to where we wanted to be. He knew that we wanted to be at the professional level when the time came.”
Like his five siblings, Jones always believed in his dad’s vision. Each day after school, he would be in the backyard chasing the dream.
From diagramming plays to running routes, Jones was crafting his own path. He wouldn’t walk alone as his brothers T.J. Jones (who plays for the Detroit Lions) and Jahmai Jones (Los Angeles Angels prospect) were right beside him.
Together, the trio learned under the guidance of their father and relatives. Sometimes, Jones’ uncle Phillip Daniels and godfather Raghib “Rocket” Ismail visited and offered advice. Both played in the NFL and offered plenty of advice.
“I think it created a competitive culture to the point that it was healthy,” Jones said. “I always wanted to outdo them, and it helped benefit all of us. It gave us an opportunity to get better.”
The guidance shaped his game. Jones quickly developed into a precision route runner and receiver. In high school, he starred at Central Gwinnett and later at Wesleyan High School outside Atlanta.
Jones put it all together and earned a full scholarship to Appalachian State. In three seasons, Jones had 92 catches, 1,341 yards, and six touchdowns.
Afterward, he declared for the 2016 NFL Draft and latched on with the Atlanta Falcons as an undrafted free agent. The Falcons didn’t work out, but Jones didn’t let that deter him. He remembered what his father always told him.
“He always told me to continue to push through it,” Jones said.
Months later, Jones signed with the High Country Grizzlies and the Albany Empire. Both are arena teams and both helped him round out his game.
Jones became the Rookie of the Year in both places and earned first-team All-Arena honors. With the Empire, he had 1,156 yards and 29 touchdowns and averaged 96.3 receiving yards per game.
This gave him an opportunity with the Chicago Bears. Jones didn’t stick on the roster, but the opportunity did open a door with the Legends.
Jones hasn’t looked back since.
“The Legends have given me an opportunity to get back outside,” Jones said. “It has helped me develop my game and keep rising to the occasion with the amount of talent we have on the other side of the ball.”
This season, Jones has stepped up as a captain and a starting receiver. He is averaging 12.3 yards per catch and has a touchdown.
Perhaps it’s not surprising considering his skill set, which has impressed the Legends. Several teammates marvel at his ability to adjust his routes and take advantage of opposing defenses.
“He understands route running and how to position himself in the offense,” Legends cornerback Desmond Lawrence said. “He can get open and create separation. He knows how to use his body and has gotten better using his hands to add to his physicality. He has the complete receiver package to me.”
In practice, Jones leads by example. He is the first one to congratulate teammates and offers great advice when needed.
According to quarterback Matt Simms, he is also a big help in the offensive room. Simms is impressed with how Jones can break down plays at each position.
“Malachi is one of those consummate pros,” Simms said. “Every day that he shows up, he is constantly working on something in his craft. It’s something that a lot of guys recognize and try to emulate, as well.”
Jones appreciates the compliment. But he maintains it’s all due to his teammates and coaches. He says his success is tied to those around him. It’s something that he picked up from his family along the way.
“I want to be a positive beacon of light for my teammates,” Jones said. “I want to set the example and tone. I want my teammates to know they can always count on me. I always will have the team’s best interests and I want them to know I got them.”
The Legends are counting on Jones this season. He is an integral part of the offense and can cause matchup problems on the field.
He also has the potential to get back into the NFL. It’s his goal to find the best fit in the league after helping the Legends win a championship.
“My mindset is to dominate until I get into the NFL,” Jones said. “Once I get there, I want to stick and stay in the league.”
If he continues making history, Jones will achieve his goal. For now, he is focused on being at his peak level.
“The mentality every week is to be 1-0,” he said. “We are taking it one game at a time.”
But that week-to-week mentality won’t prevent him from enjoying the journey. As the barrage of tweets and 30 text messages on Sunday night can attest, Jones has everyone rooting for him to succeed.
“It means the world as I love being a part of this team and organization,” Jones said.
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Jaylon Thompson covers the Atlanta Legends for The Alliance of American Football. Follow him on Twitter @JaylonThompson.