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Jones overcomes error, creates new game plan

This is the other chapter in the story of BYU wide receiver Breyon Jones, and the night that changed his life and taught him a painful lesson, the kind one never forgets.

Today, Jones is on BYU's practice football field, wearing a Cougar uniform. He's a senior who will graduate in communications. He isn't a star, but a workhorse prep-team player. For this Texan, even that grunt work is a blessing, something he will never take for granted again.

Jones is a polite gentleman. He is well-spoken, and when he speaks, his eyes light up. He has a fresh smile and an air of confidence. But he's also humbled as a church mouse over events of his life the past two years.

One night, about a year and a half ago, Jones and another Cougar football player, Marcus Whalen, asked an acquaintance to pay back some money they'd loaned. When he refused, the players followed him home and got it back. The acquaintance ended up in the hospital and filed a complaint that he'd been robbed and beaten.

It is debatable what role Jones had in the incident, but he was there at the wrong place, wrong time with the wrong people. Within days, his name and photograph were printed in newspapers. It hit the national wire services, made ESPN and all the sports Internet sites. He was viewed as a criminal without a hearing, trial or verdict.

Back home in Round Rock, Texas, his mother found out through media reports. His girlfriend called in tears, hearing he could be in prison for 15 years. Within a few weeks, in the spring of 2004, he was suspended from BYU, kicked off the football team and began a long battle to clear his name.

Jones could not transfer to another Division I school, because NCAA rules prohibit such a move when under a disciplinary decision by another school. He went home. His high school coach told him, "Breyon, what happened to you? We knew you as the good kid, how did this happen to you? Did you go up there and rebel against everything you've known?"

Said Jones: "I tried to explain it was just a bad situation that got out of hand and will never happen again."

He has been explaining ever since.

"I made a really, really poor decision. I don't want to blame it on the people I was around, because everybody does that. I'm entitled to my own decisions and to be honest with you, I've never been in trouble before in my life, and I take responsibility for it. At the time, I knew I did wrong. I mistakenly thought I could fix something. I knew I wanted to get back to BYU and get my degree in advertising and marketing and play football."

Jones started working his way back. How he paid his dues is a story in determination.

"When it happened, I was outraged," Jones said. "I was told by the deputy who investigated not to worry about it, it was fine, it wasn't a big deal, nothing would happen to me. Next thing I know, it was national news.

"It's really important to clear your name. Not to pick on the media — I'm majoring in media — but once a certain picture is painted of you in the media, a certain story is written about you, it's just the way you're looked at. It's hard to take it away."

The judge told Jones the case got more play in the media than many murder cases. "He said it was ridiculous," Jones said.

But these days, be a BYU football player, make a mistake and it is tough. It could be tougher if you are black. Jones' case followed the infamous group sex scandal in January 2004 that started as claims of a gang rape, then after a recant of the story by the female involved, a BYU track athlete, it ended up with four Cougar football players kicked out of school.

Jones' story took place months before another situation broke in August 2004 when four Cougar freshman football players, in town for just their first few days, found themselves charged with the rape of a 17-year-old teen. Two were acquitted of those charges last week after two other players plea bargained for lesser charges following a year of national headlines, motions, pleadings, and the first grand jury ever seated in Utah County.

Geared to fight the complaint against him in court, Jones had to make a decision in 2004. If he didn't accept a plea bargain and end it, he'd never play Division I football again and would likely fail to be admitted back to BYU. He was suspended for three semesters and lost his junior year of eligibility. Unless he was readmitted, 2005 would be lost also. So Jones pleaded guilty to reduced charges that included Class A misdemeanor assault and a Class B misdemeanor for giving false information to police.

In doing a plea bargain, Jones found himself pitted against Whalen. Both had their own stories. Both were looking for the best deal if they pleaded.

Jones was sentenced Dec. 1, 2004, to 15 days in jail, 123 hours of community service and a fine of $1,200. In addition, BYU's honor code office required him to write letters and submit a journal and other tasks to even be considered for readmittance.

By Christmas time, Jones did it all. He worked day and night. He spent time in a local elementary school scrubbing floors, scraping gum off tables and chairs, painting, cleaning, gardening and about everything else. He got a job and paid the fine. He did his jail time, using work release to perform his duties. "I don't think I slept much the entire month," Jones said.

In less than 30 days, Jones reappeared before the judge, gave his report and money and the judge suspended his two-year probation.

That opened the door for BYU, but school administrators declined his application. On appeal, with academic coach E.J. Caffaro vouching for him, saying Jones was like one of his own children, others stepped forward, including football coach Bronco Mendenhall and Jones' pastor, Scott McKinney of the Evangelical Church of Orem.

Working on faith that he'd be admitted, Jones "audited" classes at BYU when winter semester started in January 2005 so that, if he was allowed to come back, he'd have monitored the homework and lectures and not fall behind. The call came on the last day for dropping and adding classes. The dean of student life informed Jones he had been readmitted.

Months later, Mendenhall got a call from Jones' father, Darrell, petitioning him to allow Breyon to play football. Breyon met with the coach and begged him for a chance. Mendenhall agreed.

"I can't think of anything more fulfilling to me as a head coach," said Mendenhall, "than to have someone sincere, and what I perceive to have resolve and determination, get his degree and turn negative into a positive.

"To this point, I'm proud of what he's doing. He's not receiving accolades. He's not receiving reps with the first- or second-teams to play in games. He's working as a service player to prepare our team for an opponent."

Mendenhall said it is easy for someone to say things in a coaches' office when pleading for another opportunity. "But the daily reality of going 24 periods with a yellow jersey on, playing someone else's scheme for the sake of clearing your name is very impressive."

Athletic director Tom Holmoe welcomes back Jones. "If he had to redo, he'd do it different. The fact is, he made a mistake. He's kept his head up and eyes focused. He's repentant and paid the price. I think it's courageous and that doesn't mean he did it right in the past but he's turned it around."

"What I've learned from this experience is you can't take anything for granted in this life," Jones said. "I think, that night, I lost sight. I've learned how important it is to step back, look at the big picture and see what really needs to be done."

Not a bad game plan.

Good luck, Mr. Jones.


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com