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New England Patriots Star Jonathan Jones is a change agent — on and off the field. After winning two Super Bowls and establishing himself as a prominent player in the league, the NFL cornerback is now set on tackling community activism and mentorship.

Jones, 30, founded the Next Step Foundation in 2019, an initiative that empowers and inspires youth of all ages to enhance their skills academically and professionally. Thanks to his foundation, the athlete — who joined the New England Patriots in 2016 — made history in January 2023 when became the first male ambassador to partner with the nonprofit Play Like a Girl. Under the collaboration, Jones helped young girls to leverage the transferable skills they gained from sports to excel in careers like STEM and robotics.  

Jones’s critical philanthropic work has also touched communities in Alabama, New England and his home state of Georgia. The NFL standout teamed up with the Food Bank of East Alabama to fight food insecurity in Auburn, Alabama, where he attended university. He also donated to the Auburn Sustenance Project, an initiative that aims to provide K-5 students with breakfast, lunch and snacks at school.

Now, the Carrollton, Georgia, native is being honored for his outstanding achievements. In December, the NFL nominated Jones for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award which recognizes players for their commitment to community impact and philanthropy. Jones spoke to NewsOne about the importance of giving back to his community, how he keeps a winning mindset and why he’s excited to clutch the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award if selected Feb. 8. 


NewsOne: You’ve been playing football since you were 4. We’re sure you’ve had so many mentors over the years who have helped you to cultivate your skills and talents. Is there one mentor that you think about often on your journey? What kind of advice or help did they give you along the way?

Jonathan Jones: I’ve always said, the easiest thing to do is to do something that’s never been done before, and the hardest thing to do is to do something that’s never been done. If you can find someone who’s already doing what you want to do, or in a field that you want to pursue, the easiest thing to do is just to follow in their footsteps.

My first mentor was in my household – my dad. I grew up watching him and his hard work and dedication. I learned how to be a good father, how to be a good dad and how to be a good husband. I learned how to be a good member of the community and carry your name and reputation in the right way.

And then beyond that, Delandus O’Neal — he went to college and ran track at Mississippi State — it was something that I inspired to do, to leave my hometown and go to college. He was one of the first guys that I really got to see do that and at a high level. So, I just mimicked everything he did and worked extra hard. 


You’ve won two Super Bowl Championships. How did you keep a winning mindset while preparing for both games? 

Sometimes we can get overwhelmed by the big picture or the magnitude of what something like the Super Bowl can be. I simply take it task by task and day by day. For me, that’s always been the easiest thing to do when things are surmountable. 

I remember as a young kid, my mom would always say in the scripture, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” I always keep that near and dear to me to know that anything that’s in front of me I can conquer.


In 2022, you became the first male ambassador for Play Like A Girl after the Next Step Foundation partnered with the nonprofit. We hear your daughter Skylar played a big role in that campaign. Tell us more!  

Oh man, she was. My daughter turned 8 this year and she’s into sports, gymnastics and basketball. She wants to do softball as well. To see her growth and her development and to have the platform and the ability to work with an organization that’s paving the way for females like her was an easy alignment for me.

You get skills that you can take with you throughout so many different facets of life and through sports. So, Play Like A Girl does a great job of letting girls know that they are just as smart, just as fast, just as strong and that they can do so many things that their counterparts can.


New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers

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Can you talk about the work you’re currently doing with STEM advocacy and robotics?

I had an interest in engineering all my life growing up and I was a part of an engineering program through high school. In college, I wasn’t able to do engineering because of my football schedule, but it was something that was always near and dear to me. Technology is our future. It’s evident with AI and so many other things that are going on in our world. For kids to know robotics and coding — not just the interface of technology but the behind the scenes of it — will prepare them for the future. I think that knowing coding is going to be just as important as knowing English in the future. We have to empower the youth, especially in our underfunded and underprivileged communities.


How does it feel to be nominated for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award?

It is a blessing. It’s an honor to just be recognized by the Walter Payton community. It’s just a privilege. I not only represent my family, my community, but also New England, the team and all of the communities we’ve helped with the Next Step Foundation. It is an honor and a privilege to be recognized with so many great men who came before me.


Last question. Who do you think will win this year’s Super Bowl? 

Oh man. That’s a tough question. On paper, San Francisco, they’re a great team from top to bottom, but Kansas City, I mean when you got to play with a guy like Patrick Mahomes, you know, every time you walk out on the field that you have a chance to win. So, it’s going to be tough. If I had to pick one, I think San Fran has a really good team.


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