FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — When New England Patriots players have gathered behind the scenes this season and the conversations shifted from the finer details of each week’s game plan to bigger-picture thoughts, quarterback Mac Jones says a notable theme has emerged.
“We’re talking about legacy around our building a lot here,” he said. “I think we’ve done a good job this year of playing for something more than ourselves. It can be a person, a group of people, or what you’re passionate about.”
It has been a challenging season for the 7-7 Patriots, who endured a heartbreaking defeat to the Las Vegas Raiders Sunday when they shockingly sidelined the game away in the final seconds. Jones was steamrolled on the play, the latest in a series of gut punches he has absorbed this year.
He was a Pro Bowl alternate as a rookie in 2021. This season, in addition to missing three-plus games with a left high ankle sprain, his statistics have dipped without Josh McDaniels — now the Raiders’ head coach — as his offensive coordinator.
That helps explain, in part, why the players’ discussion of legacy has hit home with him.
The 24-year-old Jones has a clear idea of what he’d like his to be: a positive example and helpful resource to the next generation of quarterbacks.
With help from his personal mentor and throwing coach, Joe Dickinson, whom he met when he was 8 and refers to as a family member, Jones has developed a year-round connection with a group of high school quarterbacks he knows is watching him closely. He texts with them regularly and works out with them in the offseason.
They met at “QB School,” and Jones says it provides him feel-good fuel during the grind of the NFL season.
The young quarterbacks say it’s timely to highlight during the holiday season what they receive: the gift of an NFL quarterback investing in their futures with a personal touch.
THE “QB SCHOOL” isn’t a structured camp, but rather an informal gathering of quarterbacks. It can be in session anywhere during the NFL offseason, but if there is a consistent home field for their workouts, it is in Aledo, Texas. Jones likes it there because of the heat, with temperatures sometimes hitting triple digits. There is often wind to contend with, too.
“So it’s good practice for the season,” he said.
Aledo is also the hometown of Hauss Hejny, a junior blue-chip prospect Jones believes will soon be playing big-time college football after leading his team to the 5A state championship on Saturday.
They first connected through Dickinson, the former college assistant at Oklahoma and QB consultant with the Buffalo Bills, who has served as a quarterback tutor to youngsters for decades. Now Jones considers the Hejnys part of his family. He spoke to the Aledo High School team before the start of the 2022 season, sharing a message that they should play for each other, especially for the seniors playing their final season.
Other members of Jones’ informal “QB School” include Major Cantrell of Washington, Oklahoma; Gage Chance of Oklahoma City, Okla.; and Creed Barrett of Washington, Oklahoma, among others.
“I text them. I keep up with them,” Jones says. “Coach D is the head of everything. He really does it for me, which gives me a chance to share my knowledge. It’s kind of cool to see it carrying on the legacy, and then maybe one day when I’m done playing, I can help kids the way he’s helping me.
“I obviously like to train with pro guys, but it’s kind of cool to always have a group of young guys wherever I’m at — Texas, Oklahoma, California. I don’t want to say it’s like a camp, but I like when kids want to get better, work, and don’t worry about social media and things like that.”
Last offseason, Jones invited a handful of Patriots teammates to join him in Aledo, with running backs Rhamondre Stevenson and Ty Montgomery and receivers Kristian Wilkerson and Lil’Jordan Humphrey among those in attendance.
Stevenson took note of how Jones interacted with the youngsters.
“He was leading and just wanted everyone to get better. He wasn’t out there saying, ‘I’m an NFL quarterback, I do this, I do that!’ It was just a nice setting to get a lot of work in,” Stevenson says.
Adds Dickinson: “Mac is continually trying to hone in on his weaker points. He always wants to brush up his skills and show these other guys how much of a commitment it takes to be really great. They can put their hands on it and see that, because he plays on ‘Monday Night Football.’ They are all eyes and all ears when he’s talking.”
JONES IS PASSIONATE about helping young quarterbacks but acknowledges he benefits from the experience as well. It keeps him connected to a different time in his life.
“I don’t know what it is, but when you’re younger, you still have this [mindset]: ‘We’re out here to practice but also to have fun.’ We always try to do that together and keep that kid-like joy to the game of football,” he said.
It’s what Jones remembers about the formative years of his youth in Jacksonville, Florida, and how almost anything involving a football in his right hand brought him happiness. That also relates to how he first met Dickinson, who has been overseeing his own “QB School” for 15 years through his work with DeBartolo Sports and says his mission has been “a brotherhood of positive environment and culture.”
An 8-year-old Jones was tagging along with his family at the Saddlebrook Resort on the outskirts of Tampa, where his sister Sarah Jane was competing in a tennis tournament. In the distance, Jones saw a group of kids throwing the football on a turf field and walked over for a closer look.
“Can I jump in?” Jones asked.
“Sure, no problem,” Dickinson responded.
Dickinson wasn’t about to turn away a child who had such chutzpah. Jones soon became a regular, his parents Gordon and Holly grew close with Dickinson as well, and the bond between them quickly became familial.
“That’s how we met; a total coincidence. Who would have thought that we’d still be connected today? I want to say best friends,” Jones says.
There is a picture of Jones and Dickinson from those early years, and it brings a smile to Jones’ face.
“You can barely even recognize me. Look at my hair,” he says, pointing to his 12-year-old self with long, blonde locks and braces on his teeth. “That’s from the camp. I just kept going back.”
JONES HAS LUNG trusted Dickinson to coach him hard, and he appreciates the way he communicates with him. But when the “QB School” gets together, Dickinson is usually more of an overseer of the proceedings than a prodding coach.
“He kind of lets me do my thing, but I always ask him if there’s anything he sees that is blatantly obvious with me that I might need to fix,” Jones says. “So we’ll go through drills, and it’s basically ‘whoever wants to hop in with me can hop in.’”
Hejny, who has already received a scholarship offer from Nebraska and North Texas, doesn’t hesitate.
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“There is attention to detail and tempo to the workouts. Mac usually throws in shoulder pads and a helmet as well,” he says. “He likes to end with QB wind sprints to show the wide receivers that he will work just like them. Then we typically meet at the hotel where we’ll have film study.”
That mental part of the game, and how Jones approaches it, has made an impression on the young quarterbacks.
Cantrell, the Washington, Oklahoma, native who has posted a 29-1 record as a starter and just won a state championship in his junior season, marvels at Jones’ recall of plays from past games and how it reflects his understanding of the situation.
“He can tell you what happened in the [2020 season NCAA] national championship game, first-and-10, and what defense Ohio State was in. Were they in one-high safety?” he says of the former Alabama quarterback. “One thing that stands out to me is that I’ve learned how he prepares — not only physically but mentally.”
This is part of the legacy that Jones says he plays for, a reminder of his own youth when he looked up to Oklahoma State quarterback Daxx Garman, and he remembers how neat it was when a Jacksonville Jaguars player might come to speak to his team at the Bolles School.
“I was there [as a kid]. And for the parents, too, I get to talk to a lot of them when we’re working out. They might ask for advice, which maybe I can offer — whether it’s nutrition, throwing motion, or schools,” Jones says.
“Hopefully, 2-3 years from now, they’ll be the headlines of college football, the best players. And from there, they go to the NFL. Then the next group of guys comes.”
Chance, an eighth-grade quarterback from Oklahoma City, tells a story of Jones’ intense focus on mechanics. At the end of one “QB School” session, Chance says Jones spent a half-hour adjusting his hand position on the football.
“A tiny adjustment that made a huge difference,” he says.
Barrett, the Washington, Oklahoma quarterback who has taken a recruiting visit to Jones’ alma mater Alabama, says he was blown away by how down to earth Jones was with him, offering up his gear to help him get loose.
“I’m just really passionate about the younger kids, just because I was there. I was always trying to get that crumb,” Jones says. “So it’s all about giving that knowledge back and helping them become better.”