The Braxton Jones Effect

The Southern Utah University football team is not a program that regularly produces professional athletes, but offensive lineman Braxton Jones changed that narrative. Jones was selected in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears with the 168th overall pick. Although he was projected to go in the sixth-seventh round of the draft, his athleticism bolstered his draft stock, as Jones was one of only 14 offensive linemen in the country to record a 40-yard dash time under the five second mark. 

Where it started

Jones started his football career as a high school student in his hometown of Murray, Utah. He was a two-sport athlete, playing both football and basketball. With a two-star rating in football, he decided to continue on the gridiron with NFL aspirations.

His first year as a Thunderbird was short, and Jones played just one game before opting to redshirt. A collegiate student-athlete has five years to play four seasons of their respective sport. Redshirting is a way for college athletes to take advantage of that extra year because they would not be playing much or sustain an injury; it helps them get a year back that otherwise would have been lost. 

Although Jones was the one putting in the long hours athletically and academically, there is one person that should be recognized for helping him during the process, Thunderbird offensive line coach Aaron Fernandez.

“We do a drill called one-on-ones, a mano a mano type of thing,” coach Fernadez stated. “He didn’t really win one of those his redshirt freshman year. I might be exaggerating a little bit, but he was really learning the position and growing into his body. It is a testament to the way he is mentally, how he prepares and what he wants through all of this. The flip-side to that is he really never lost one again.” 

The drill Coach Fernandez is speaking about is truly one of the hardest drills for an offensive linemen. It tested his skills as a pass-protector early on because of the one-on-one battle between him and the defensive lineman trying to rush the quarterback, but he continued to work through it, even though he struggled at first.

After spending his redshirt year in the weight room and watching his teammates on the field, Jones was ready to take on the Big Sky Conference with his fellow Thunderbirds. 

College Accolades

Jones earned many top awards throughout his career as a Thunderbird. In 2019, Jones began to show his hard work and dedication to perfecting his craft. Offensive tackle is a physically demanding position, and Jones only missed one game for the Thunderbirds that season, which helped him earn All-Big Sky Third Team honors. He was also named a Sophomore All-American by Hero Sports. 

In his final year at Southern Utah University, he earned Big Sky All-Academic Team honoree, Phil Steel First Team All-American and All-Big Sky First Team selection for spring of 2021. In the fall of 2021, he added another All-Big Sky First Team Selection, Hero Sports FCS All-American selection and Associated Press FCS First Team All-American selection.

After his lustrous career as a Thunderbird, Jones had built a resume that NFL coaches and scouts could not overlook. He was invited to the 2022 NFL combine and was prepared to prove himself to teams looking for hidden talent.  

Going pro

Chicago Bears’ General Manager Ryan Poles drafted Jones in hopes that he could compete for the starting offensive tackle position one-day. That day came sooner than Poles expected; it was halfway through training camp that he realized Jones should be competing for the starting position immediately. 

“I’ve been blown away by how fast he has developed,” Poles said in an interview with CBS Sports Chicago. “There’s a lot of credit for our coaches and Chris Morgan, they’ve done an excellent job. He continues to kind of check the boxes. He continues to climb and get better and better and better.” 

Now, Jones continues to work day-in and day-out as a Bear just like he did as a Thunderbird. Not even Ryan Poles, the general manager who drafted Jones, expected the rookie to be ready so soon.

“We thought he definitely had starter potential,” Poles said, via “[But] I’ve been blown away by how fast he has developed.”

What it takes

Jones always told his Thunderbird coaches that his ultimate goal was to make it to the NFL. He achieved his goal by working tirelessly to achieve his goals with help from coaches and teammates at SUU.  

“Just gotta get better every day and continue to do my job and not let this opportunity go to waste,” Jones said in the interview with CBS Sports Chicago. “I think that’s the biggest thing. It’s a great opportunity to show what I can do. So, I’ve got to continue to seize the opportunity and not really worry about being surprised.” 

Jones’ story serves as an example that it does not matter what division, what school, or where you are fromif you work hard you can make any dream imaginable become a reality. 

Article by: Chevy Blackburn
Photos courtesy of SUU Athletics


This article was originally published in the October 2022 issue of the University Journal. Pick up a free copy at any of the stands around SUU campus