From Murray High to the NFL: Braxton Jones is now a rookie starter for the Chicago BearsNov 01, 2022 08:29PM ● By Carl Fauver
Braxton Jones and his Chicago Bear teammates stretch out at Soldier Field prior to a game. (chicagobears.com)
By Carl Fauver | [email protected]
Murray High School welcomed students for the first time in 1916. Until the mid-1950s, the school was on the east side of State Street, and combined with Murray Junior High.
Four years after MHS opened, a handful of well-heeled businessmen met in Canton, Ohio to discuss creating a sports league. In 1920 that organization was known as the American Professional Football Conference. It now earns $11 billion annually and is known as the NFL.
Why the history lesson? Because in the first 100-plus years Murray High School and the National Football League were each operating, their paths crossed only once. But as of this year, that number doubled when Braxton Jones became the second Murray Spartan to make his way on to an NFL roster.
Moreover, Jones has earned a starting position in perhaps the most challenging offensive spot, this side of the quarterback. At 6-foot-5¾-inches and 310 pounds, Jones is the Chicago Bears left (“blindside”) offensive tackle. Of all five offensive linemen on the field, the blindside tackle is under the most pressure to protect his QB from snarling defensive linemen, who are paid millions of dollars a year to knock him down.
“I was never sure whether I would make it into the NFL—I guess no one ever is,” Jones said. “But I did always tell myself, whatever I was going to do, I wanted to be the best at it. I attack my opportunities. Rather than me choosing football, I feel like it chose me.”
That, quite literally, is true. The NFL—specifically, the Chicago Bears—did choose Jones, on April 30, in the fifth round of the league’s three-day draft, held this year in Las Vegas.
Once known as the “Monsters of the Midway,” NFL fans know Chicago has fallen on lean times in recent years. But those same fans know the iconic names that have filled Bears’ rosters for decades. Red Grange and Bronko Nagurski were Chicago Bears, pre-World War II. Sid Luckman and Bulldog Turner weren’t far behind them. The 1960s found Gale Sayers, Dick Butkus and Mike Ditka playing in the Windy City. And Chicago’s only Super Bowl winning team, in 1985, featured Walter Payton, Mike Singletary and a “punky QB” (Jim McMahon) who hailed from Roy High School and BYU.
In short, Jones is joining a long pedigree of storied athletes in Chicago. With 34 inductees, the Bears have more players enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame than any other.
Ironically, that only other Murray Spartan to ever earn his way into the NFL was also a 6-foot-5 offensive tackle, just like Jones. Mark Koncar graduated from MHS in the early 1970s, played college ball at Colorado and was drafted by the Bears’ rivals, the Green Bay Packers, in 1976. His six-season NFL career ended in 1982, after one year with the Houston Oilers.
Now, 40 years later, Jones is working to ensure his NFL career also lasts several seasons. So far, it looks like it could.
“He’s already made a little Chicago Bears history,” said his mom Danielle Williams. “He’s the first rookie to start for Chicago at left tackle in 30 years. We are super proud and happy for Braxton. He’s kept working for his goal. He’s stayed the path. I always told him he would succeed—at whatever he did—if he stayed the course and stuck with his goals.”
Like her son, Williams is also a Murray High School graduate. Mom received her diploma in 1995…Jones in 2017.
Jones’ football life has been a whirlwind now, for about 20 months. COVID-19 postponed and shortened his “2020” football season, at Southern Utah University. The team did not play until spring of last year, a six-game schedule. Then, after just a couple of months off, the Thunderbirds played their normal 11-game fall 2021 season.
“I attended every one of Braxton’s football games from age 8 (when Jones played in Murray’s Ute Conference program) through high school,” Williams said. “I also attended all of his Southern Utah home games and many of the away games.”
Williams and other family members also made their way down to Mobile, Alabama last February, where Jones played in the Reese’s (yes, the peanut butter cups) Senior Bowl. That was followed by Jones trip to Indianapolis the next month, for the NFL Combine, where representatives from all 32 of the league’s teams show up to see how high prospects can jump, how much weight they can left and how fast they can sprint 40 yards.
But even after all that—and a handful of all-conference and all-American honors—Jones still wasn’t sure how the draft would go. But by then, he at least knew Chicago was interested.
“Just a few days before the draft, the Bears flew their new assistant offensive line coach Austin King out here to work me out,” Jones said. “The workout was on the Murray High School football field. He took me through mobility and offensive line drills. I felt like it went well. But even after he left, I had no idea what was going to happen (during the NFL draft).”
So, then that led to what his mom describes as “the most agonizing, horrifying event you can imagine”—the three-day draft.
“Braxton’s agent said he might be drafted anywhere after, maybe the middle of the third round,” Williams said. “He was staring at his phone pick after pick, hoping a team would call over two days. We had a huge party planned, more than 100 people coming. Then finally Braxton got his call.”
“The Bears called me just a couple of minutes before the pick,” Jones added. “Honestly, that whole phone call is kind of a blur to me. I know I spoke to the General Manager (Ryan Poles) and (new Chicago Head) coach (Matt) Eberflus. But I was so excited, I don’t remember much about the conversation.”
The Bears signed Jones to a four-year, $3,959,552 contract—none of it guaranteed. He did receive a $299,552 signing bonus. But he’d have to make the Chicago roster to earn any more. Now that he has made the team, his first-year salary is $705,000. That will go up a little each year, if he continues earning his roster spot.
“I don’t pay that much attention to the money; my agent keeps track of that,” Jones said. “I haven’t bought anything very expensive. I am just not that materialistic.”
But what about a car? You have to have one of those. Funny you should ask…
“As a (Murray High School) graduation gift, we bought Braxton a 2013 Volkswagen Jetta—or actually, half of it—we told him he had to pay the other half,” Williams said. “It probably has 130,000 miles on it now. It’s the only car he’s ever had to himself. When he moved to Chicago, he had the Jetta shipped out to him.”
Williams flew to Chicago two separate times, in August and September, to attend Braxton’s preseason opener against Kansas City, and regular season opener versus San Francisco, both at Soldier Field. That second game, on Sept. 11, was played in such a torrential downpour that later that evening, Chicago flooding was featured on the national news.
“We were sitting on the front row, in the endzone, for the 49ers game,” Williams said. “But honestly, the energy in Soldier Field was so incredible. I completely forgot about the rain. We just blanked it out. Finally, when the game was over (and the Bears had pulled the upset victory), I realized just how soaked we were. But what fun.”
Jones was one of the dozen or more players who celebrated the win by running and sliding on the soaked stadium grass, like they were at a kid’s summer birthday party, with a Slip ’N Slide.
Besides being a massive and athletic young man, Jones is also very highly thought of as a person:
- “He’s a smart kid and a top-notch guy—very coachable”—Murray High School Head Football coach Todd Thompson, who was an assistant coach when Jones was a Spartan.
- “Braxton is a great kid and we love having him around the facility (PNC Center at Halas Hall, Lake Forest, Illinois)” —Chicago Bears Football Club Communications Coordinator Ben Schmitz.
- “I’ve been blown away by how fast he has developed. He continues to climb and get better and better and better” —Bears GM Ryan Poles.
- “Braxton is very cerebral about football. He understands the insights of the game. He’s also one of the most coachable kids and best human beings I have ever met. Very respectful, with a great head on his shoulders. Mom Danielle did a fantastic job raising him with great core values” —Southern Utah University Offensive Line coach Aaron Fernandez.
Fernandez and Jones both say they try to live by a quote credited to the founder of the McDonald’s hamburger empire, Ray Kroc: “When you’re green, you’re growing. When you’re ripe, you rot.”
“It means never be satisfied with where you are,” Jones concluded. “Coach Fernandez was always hard on me about the little things— making sure I was never comfortable. We talked about my goal to make it to the NFL. He helped me learn how to be focused and dialed in.”
And at the same time he was “dialed in” on his football duties, Jones also completed his bachelor’s degree in marketing at SUU. For the record, according to the NFL itself, only 46% of its active players have completed their college degrees. Moreover, many of those players picked up their coursework again, after joining the league, in order to finish up.
But putting that marketing degree to work can wait for Jones. At the moment, he is one of 15 rookies on the Bears roster, an incredibly high number. That means the team is giving youth an opportunity to prosper. The Chicago coaching staff is also all new.
As this “Monsters of the Midway” rebuild continues, Jones appears poised for a robust NFL career, as Murray High School’s second graduate in “the show.”