Jones gets a shot with Bengals camp

Photo courtesy Marian University
After helping Marian University win the NAIA national football title last fall, Forest Park High School graduate Nathan Jones is receiving a shot at the next level. The Ferdinand native received an invitation to the Cincinnati Bengals rookie camp, which will start Thursday and run for four days.

Herald Sports Writer

Nathan Jones had a good reason for running out of his kinesiology class Wednesday.

The Marian University senior, who’s a Ferdinand native and Forest Park High School graduate, was hoping to receive a call from an NFL team. That’s exactly what happened, as the Cincinnati Bengals invited Jones to their rookie camp, a four-day experience that begins Thursday at the Bengals’ home stadium.

“It kind of struck me,” Jones said. “I ran out of the classroom and took the call. It was a surreal feeling, a lot of excitement, but yet humbling knowing that I’ve got to work for a spot on the team and earn my opportunity.”

Marian finished 12-1 last season in winning the NAIA national championship, during which Jones scored the Knights’ final touchdown on a 61-yard reception with less than three minutes to play.
Marian beat Morningside (Iowa) 30-27. During his senior season, Jones led the team in receiving yards (610) and touchdowns (seven) and finished second in receptions (48). He also tallied 125 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 15 attempts.

This next challenge is one Jones has been training for since the season ended. The camp will include Cincinnati’s draft picks, the majority of players on last year’s practice squad and any offseason free agents the Bengals have signed. Jones expects between 20 to 30 players will be at the rookie camp, where he’ll have an opportunity to earn an invite to the Bengals’ regular-season training camp, which will include 90 players though it’s uncertain how many players from the rookie camp will be invited.

Jones expects to compete for a spot in any number of positions: tight end, receiver or an H-back, a hybrid running back position.

“It’s going to be a learning curve, as it was from high school to college,” Jones said. “I’ll have to catch up to the speed.”

Following Jones’ pro day March 20 at Ball State, he traveled to Minnesota to continue his training and also had a tryout with the Colts. There was a chance Jones could have been drafted by Indianapolis, but the Colts used one of their late picks on a tight end, signaling to Jones he wouldn’t end up there.

For Cincinnati, Jones will check in Wednesday night, then spend the next four days meeting with coaches, experiencing two-a-day practices and completing a physical.

“I think I’ll be successful and show them that I can play a little bit, play special teams and hopefully get my shot from there,” he said.

After Jones’ sophomore season with the Rangers, former coach Terry Wagner sat down with him and said he thought Jones would have a chance to play at the next level if he put in the work.
Jones shared a similar conversation with former Marian coach Ted Karras after his second season with the Knights. The advice especially seemed meaningful since Karras had played defensive tackle in the NFL for the Washington Redskins.

“(Karras) sat me down and said he really thought I had a chance and thought if I proved myself the next two years, somebody would give me a look,” Jones said.

Jones is majoring in health education, sports performance and secondary education — which he termed as a “triple threat” — and added he’d like to coach after he’s finished playing.

“I think that the coaching staff there at Marian got me wanting to kind of coach after I’m done playing and they just got me really hungry to keep pursuing a career in college,” Jones said.
Jones wasn’t sure if playing for a startup program at Forest Park helped or hindered him in any way. Instead, he pointed to making the best of his circumstances. That’s what he did at Marian, turning a seemingly unappealing situation into a launching pad for his dreams.

“I’m glad that I went to Forest Park, I’m glad that I met the people that I met there and ended up at Marian,” Jones said. “At first, I was kind of bummed about going to an NAIA school, but after learning more about it, I really appreciated where I went. To begin at Marian and Forest Park, I really took advantage of my opportunities that I had and now I have to take advantage of another opportunity that I have.”

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