Recent SUU Graduate's Recruitment to the Chicago Bears

Published: March 15, 2023 | Author: Hayley Radle | Read Time: 5 minutes

Braxton Jones, Southern Utah University“I got a call from Illinois, and I was like, ‘man, it’s gotta be the Bears.’”

Southern Utah University alumnus Braxton Jones received an offer he couldn’t refuse on a life-changing phone call last April, claiming his spot on the Chicago Bears roster during the 2022 NFL draft immediately after graduation. Just moments later, friends, coaches, and other football fans across the country witnessed years of diligence and persistence pay off during the announcement on national TV, a proud moment for past, present, and future Thunderbirds.

Known as one of the team’s best rookies and named Best Offensive Lineman rookie of 2022 by Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports, he didn’t just play in every game throughout the 2022 season, but all 1,034 of the Bears’ offensive snaps. This is something very few NFL players get the chance to do during their time in the league, let alone during their first year.

Jones has proven to be a prime example of the opportunities that can arise from striving towards big goals, especially at a small university where players must work harder to be noticed in the professional world due to less publicity than some of the nation’s large football schools. Hard work, commitment, and seizing the opportunity for something great when it arises have all been constants during his journey, and he advises others to do the same.

“When you do start those dreams or what you want to do with life, just be consistent with it,” Jones said. “I definitely feel like I put a lot into it and kept true long enough that it came to life.”

Consistency during his college football career led to him acquiring several All-American awards, a chance to play in the Senior Bowl, and an invite to the 2022 NFL Combine in Indianapolis, a dream come true for him.

“A lot of kids dream about going to the Combine and running that 40-yard dash,” Jones said. “It was cool to see those dreams come to life after having a huge childhood in sports like that.”

However, his achievements thus far have not been easy. Jones spent much of his freshman year on the sidelines, then had to overcome injuries throughout college before he could continue playing. Despite the setbacks, he said that not initially being a starter allowed him to grow and learn more about his position without feeling thrown into it too soon. He has proven to himself, the Bears, and the nation that he is an effective player while staying open to constructive criticism and coaching to keep improving.

Since joining the team in Chicago, his football life looks quite different than before, now playing with professionals and working with more advanced coaching. As a newbie to the league, he only plans to work harder and become better without letting anything prevent him from getting where he wants to be.

His opportunity may have come immediately upon graduation, but he wants people to know that not everyone is going to hit their peak at a young, fresh-out-of-college age. He mentions that it's okay if the timeline looks longer, reiterating that consistency is key when going for what you want.

“I’ve talked to people like this where they know that if they keep grinding away with what they’re doing, maybe it will just come a few years later,” Jones said. “We all have our peaks and valleys, and one day we’re going to peak.”

The underdog mentality of the coaching staff was something that enticed him compared to other school options, so choosing to attend SUU for both football and a degree was not difficult. As he continues to develop skills in a professional environment, Jones attributes much of where he is now to his time in Cedar City. Living in a small town encouraged him to stay anchored in his hard work without facing many distractions that might normally pull students out of focus.

His college coaches have shown tremendous support during his rookie NFL year, notably Aaron Fernandez, former Thunderbird offensive line coach. From recruitment in high school to the draft, he saw him through the entire process and took a coaching approach that inspired Jones to focus on improvement both on and off the field.

Fernandez saw admirable improvements from Jones throughout his time as a Thunderbird, especially as he gained confidence and started displaying leadership traits. He showed up to practice early and stayed late, started taking on coaching qualities, and eventually became a two-time team captain.

“Whenever you coach a guy like that who’s motivated but also has all the intangibles for what it'll take for growth and development, you can’t ask for more,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez also noted that achieving success as early as Jones did shows what hard work and consistency do, and watching him get drafted was a special moment for himself as a coach, as well as for Jones’ family, teammates, and peers. He noticed the ripple effect it sent through T-bird nation and others who pay attention to SUU and is prepared to see more NFL recruitment out of the university in the future as a result.

The coach said that Jones consistently “stuck to the course” and worked hard to achieve the vision he created to become a great player. Because of his resilience, he sees him taking his career in whichever direction he would like and wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes an All-pro tackle down the line.

After becoming more comfortable as a professional player, Jones plans to achieve higher academic goals by completing the MBA he started during his senior year. He received a bachelor’s degree in marketing with a minor in economics during his undergraduate years and is excited to eventually integrate classes with his career and obtain a master’s degree.

He is very thankful for everyone who has given him opportunities to grow, the academic and professional relationships he has built, and those who have pushed him to be great during his time as a T-bird; the support he received while going through highs and lows bettered him throughout the years. He plans on continuing to emphasize learning, being coachable, and receiving constructive criticism as he keeps trying to be the best player and person he can be.

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