Two freshmen from Murray were part of Southern Utah’s best-ever 9-3 football seasonFeb 08, 2018 01:03PM ● By Carl Fauver
Braxton Jones played in two SUU games before suffering a thumb injury. (Anita Bunker/SUU)
By Carl Fauver | [email protected]
Down at Southern Utah University in Cedar City they’re still talking about the Thunderbirds’ best-ever football season. SUU won nine games for the first time…advanced to the second round of the FCS playoffs for the first time…and hosted their first-ever home playoff game.
For a pair of freshmen from Murray on the team, it was a dream come true.
“People were definitely excited to see the team do so well,” Braxton Jones said. “Our crowds (at home games) really picked up, once people started to see we were going to be pretty good.”
Fellow freshman Somtochukwu (“Sommy”) Achebo added, “It was great—the whole community was so supportive. I definitely made the right decision coming down here.”
Jones and Achebo each made their way from Murray to Cedar City last summer. But their experiences leading up to the move were worlds apart.
The massive 6-foot-6, 270-pound Jones was a multi-sport athlete at Murray High School, earning three football letters and two more in basketball. His SUU Head Coach Demario Warren described Jones on the Thunderbirds’ website as “The biggest human being I have ever met in person.”
Achebo, meantime, attended Murray’s much smaller private school, Mount Vernon Academy, where they have no football program. He played basketball and ran track for the Patriots, while getting permission to play football at Granger High School.
Moreover, as a student who grew up in the West African country of Nigeria, Sommy had never even seen an American football game until Super Bowl XLIX (49), three years ago. But after thinking “I could probably be pretty good at that,” he played two seasons for the Lancers and was recruited to SUU as a defensive back.
“We called Sommy ‘the prince’ because he has such a good attitude and is one of the most exciting players on our roster,” said SUU recruiting coordinator Jared Ursua. “The only reason we redshirted him is because we didn’t want to use up a season of eligibility. He’s going to be on the field a lot for us in the coming years. His energy is unmatched and he has great football intellect.”
Neither Achebo nor Jones were key contributors to the Thunderbirds’ success this season, due to injuries. But both were involved in the team’s practices and other team activities.
Braxton did enjoy one moment of “glory” in the SUU season opener. Although the T-birds were blown out at Pac-12 Oregon, 77-21, Jones was in for one key play.
“I was second string right tackle and on one play the guy who started ahead of me had his helmet knocked off, so the coach sent me in,” Jones said. “On the very next play, our running back bounced off me and then made it into the end zone. So, my first-ever college play was a touchdown.”
Jones saw a little more action in the team’s second game—a 51-14 win over Stephen F. Austin, down in Nacogdoches, Texas—before injury slowed him down.
“I injured my right thumb and had to have surgery,” he said. “But I did get back to practice in a cast, assisting on the practice squad.”
“Braxton was a very motivated freshman and was certainly having an impact on our depth chart until his injury,” said offensive line coach Aaron Fernandez. “He’s very coachable, likeable and personable. He’s got great size and tools, and will definitely compete for a starting offensive tackle position next season.”
As for Achebo, the decision was made early in the season for him to redshirt because he was still recovering from injuries when he arrived in Cedar City.
“I was still coming back from shoulder and knee surgeries when I arrived, so the coaches thought it would be best to save my eligibility by redshirting,” Sommy said. “But I still worked out with the team and gained about 20 pounds. So now they are switching me from defensive back to linebacker.”
Achebo and Jones also roomed together with two other roommates just off the SUU campus. And both say they are fully healthy now, as they look ahead to next season.
“We will run and lift weights until the weather clears enough for spring ball,” Jones said. “I loved being part of a Big Sky Conference Championship team. It’s been such a welcoming atmosphere. My classes went well and I’m excited to earn more playing time next season.”
Achebo added, “Even though we went to different high schools, I knew Braxton before we came here after working out with him at the Murray Rec Center. It was great to have him as a roommate and teammate.”