BETHESDA – When running back Aaron Jones prepares for a game, he likes to sit by himself so that he can get in the right mindset to produce on the field and make a difference for his team. Sometimes, before donning the green and white uniform of Walter Johnson High School, Jones listens to music for extra motivation.
Then, it’s time for the junior to put on his helmet. From the outside, Jones’s helmet looks precisely the same as the ones his teammates wear. The letters “WJ” are written in green on one side, Jones’s No. 7 jersey number is on the other. Jones’s helmet is unique, though, because it was made to fit his cochlear implant.
Jones has been completely deaf since birth. He played football completely deaf until he was able to find a specialized helmet that would allow him to wear a hearing aid on the field. That breakthrough occurred during his sophomore year when Jones was attending Wilson High School in Washington, D.C., before transferring to Walter Johnson.
Jones was just 7 years old when he told his father, Abraham, that he wanted to play football because the game looked fun. It was only natural that Jones became drawn into football; after all, his uncles and cousins were all football players, and Abraham Jones played cornerback in college. Aaron Jones followed in the footsteps of his paternal uncle as the second running back in the family.
“I just like having the ball in my hands, and it’s the position I find the most fun,” said Jones. “I try to fit different styles of running the ball into my game.”
Jones started with flag football at the age of 7 and progressed to tackle football by the time he was eight. Jones was in seventh grade when he joined theAbraham Jones a youth tackle football team based in Bethesda. Even though Jones was a year younger than most of the other participants, he played on the eighth-grade team.
At Maplewood, Jones showed flashes of the gritty, hard-nosed running back he is today. He was known for firing off long runs for touchdowns, including a 96-yard score that was called back due to a penalty. Head Coach Joseph Nalls coached at Maplewood for nearly 30 years, and he still recalls Jones’s poise and character on and off the field.
At first, Nalls was unsure what adjustments he should make for a player who is deaf. However, the only accommodation that Jones needed was a wrist coach with the plays listed on it. Coaches would make hand signals during games, and in practice, players spent less time with their helmets on, so that Jones could wear his hearing aid.
“He never missed a snap count. He never got a play wrong,” said Nalls. “There was very little adjustment at all. He is very poised and relaxed while he’s playing, but he also plays with great energy.”
“In the beginning, it was a challenge more so for the adults than for Aaron,” said Abraham Jones. “For Aaron and the other boys that he would participate with, it wasn’t a big deal at all, but there were some challenges with some of the adults in the beginning.”
One of the other boys that Aaron Jones played with at Maplewood would later end up being his teammate during the most successful football season in Walter Johnson’s history.
Current Wildcats quarterback Josh Forburger was influential in helping to bring Jones to WJ; together, Jones and Forburger have helped lead the Wildcats to an 8-2 record and a first-ever playoff berth.
“I was able to play with him in eighth grade, and he was just a heck of a football player and a heck of a person,” said Forburger. “I just had a bond with him that was like nothing else, and that’s why I wanted him to come here, to make this year special.”
“Special” has been an understatement for Jones, Forburger and the 2019 Wildcats. Jones has held steady as the third most prolific running back in Montgomery County, amassing over 1,200 yards on the ground and 14 touchdowns.
Opposing defenses have attempted to stop Jones with great difficulty. After taking the handoff from Forburger, Jones plows up the middle or changes direction mid-run and often pulls defenders down the field with him. Teammates come up to Jones and tap him on the helmet to congratulate him after a big play.
“He just plays with a different demeanor than everybody else. He plays like a silent assassin…he just does everything you need him to do for the team,” said Forburger. “He doesn’t really make any mistakes.”
In addition to playing football, Jones also runs track and plays basketball. He is an A student and cites his father, Abraham, as his biggest motivator and supporter.
“My dad is really the one who has been telling me what to do and how everything works. He kept pushing me even though I was down sometimes,” said Aaron Jones.
“As a parent, you’re proud not just of the success that your child has, but also the effort. Aaron is committed on the field and in the classroom,” said Abraham Jones. “Aaron puts in the time, and he puts in the hard work. His success is a result of the work that he puts in.”
Aaron Jones’s hard work is apparent whenever he breaks a tackle, sprints down the field and scores a touchdown in his green and white Wildcats uniform. When fans in the stands see him playing, many of them do not know about his cochlear implant or the fact that he played football completely deaf for so many years. They see a dynamic player that has helped lead the Wildcats to a historic season.
“What motivates me the most is really just to inspire and to be successful,” said Jones. “I don’t stop and won’t stop.”