Itâ€™s not often a Rhode Island-born football player has a chance to make it at the next level in professional sports, but when it comes to football, the chances of it happening are even slimmer than most.
With just 39 out of over 26,000 players in the NFLâ€™s history hailing from the smallest state in the country, Central Connecticutâ€™s Trevante Jones is looking to defy those odds and be the next Ocean State NFL product.
Jones, a St. Raphaelâ€™s Academy graduate, was not heavily recruited. Getting no offers out of high school, he went to University of Rhode Island as a student before switching gears to prove he belonged in college football.
â€śComing out of Rhode Island, weâ€™re not really highly recruited,â€ť Jones said. â€śI felt like I had to prove myself at (CCSU), people in the conference and my position that Rhode Islandâ€™s got some dogs. I just took it one day at a time, working on my craft.â€ť
Having to prove himself is not something Jones is unfamiliar with. Not getting a signing day where heâ€™s able to select from an array of hats as a senior in high school helped light a bigger fire under him to help prove he belonged.
â€śEvery kid has that dream of signing day with the college hats on the table and you get to choose where you wanted to go,â€ť said Jones. â€śI was hoping for that for myself, but it didnâ€™t turn out that way. Iâ€™m blessed that happened because it showed a lot in me that I didnâ€™t know I had in myself to go out every day and prove doubters wrong. Iâ€™ve been doing that my entire life. Not having that signing day, it just put more fire in me.â€ť
The decision to move to New Britain for CCSU came after a visit with his mom, who felt it was a great place for him to flourish as a student. With Jones and his mom in agreement it was the right place academically, the chance to prove as a walk on for the Blue Devils was an added bonus.
â€śI think Central was a perfect place for me, honestly. We took a visit there, just for school, not getting the athletic part of it, and my mom was very interested in the campus and what it had to offer,â€ť said Jones. â€śThe football aspect I didnâ€™t really think of as much, â€¦ From a school aspect, it was a perfect fit. The football part of it was the icing on the cake.â€ť
Jones took a spot as a safety before transitioning into a linebacker on the team. A 6-3 255 pound presence on the field, the decision to move positions came due to his size â€“ but the opportunity to impress came by chance.
â€śComing in as a safety, they moved me to outside linebacker within the first week of camp because of my size and my wingspan. â€¦ They thought, letâ€™s give it a try,â€ť Jones said.
After recording a sack against Bryant University, his position stuck. Since debuting for the Blue Devils heâ€™s racked up 126 total tackles, 14 sacks and four forced fumbles. Heâ€™s also picked off two passes and recovered two fumbles.
The accolades rolled in during the 2019 season, where he was named to the All-Northeast Conference first team and All-ECAC second team. He was a two-time NEC Defensive Player of The Week that season as well.
The biggest part of the transition for Jones was matching up with linemen and tight ends while also adjusting to the run game. Watching videos of All-Pro level linemen to see how theyâ€™ve gained success in the NFL was a big part of research for Jones, along with adjusting to the run game.
â€ś[It was] the pass rushing aspect,â€ť said Jones. â€śIn high school I was a linebacker going into coverage or a safety going deep thirds or man-to-man. Being introduced to the pass-rushing aspect was the most interesting part (the transition). I watched endless YouTube videos of Aaron Donald, Von Miller in his prime to see how they get to the passer in .2 seconds. â€¦ It was a faster adjustment. I had to get used to the run game aspect of it, getting down and dirty with the linemen and taking on tight ends, using my hands.â€ť
Now that Jones has established himself on the team as a mainstay in the CCSU defensive game, the potential for taking his chances to the next level is not zero.
With still his senior season ahead of him, Jones finds himself back in a position where he can prove the doubters wrong in his final college football season.
But in order for the NFL dreams to come true, Jones knows where he needs to make improvements â€“ starting with increasing his physicality on the field to become a problem for opposing quarterbacks, while also being a well-rounded defensive asset.
â€śIâ€™ve gone over it a thousand times in my head,â€ť said Jones on where he needs to improve. â€śâ€¦ In my opinion, I think I have to be more physical in the run game and assert my dominance on the edge as well as rushing the passer. I feel like I need to put on more film on different positions from outside linebacker to defensive end to defensive tackle. Being more versatile on the field in different positions will give coaches a different perspective on how they can use me on the field.â€ť
Jones and CCSU will open its regular season Sept. 3 at home against Southern Connecticut State. Kick off will come at 6 p.m. in New Britain.