(Buffalo, N.Y.) – Nick Jones, 27, is currently enrolled at SUNY Buffalo State, but his path to the school has been a unique one.
Jones, who is a senior, plays tight end on the Buffalo State football team and is one of four players to be named a captain.
“It’s an honor, but it’s hard because you have a lot of eyes on you and you have to do your job. It’s also easy for me because I was a squad leader in Afghanistan at 21, so I know what it takes to be strong and a leader,” said Jones.
Before he came to Buffalo State, Jones was on a journey that most college students don’t get to experience, which he says led him to become the man that he is today.
After graduating from West Seneca West high school in 2007, Jones made a personal decision to join the military and to be a part of the Marine Corps.
“Where I came from when growing up, I was trying to find guidance and discipline. It was really on me because my Mom didn’t want me to join right away, but I still did it,” said Jones.
He started his training at Parris Island, a well-known Marine Corps boot camp in South Carolina. When Jones completed his recruit training, he went to the School of Infantry, a Marine training program.
After his training was completed, Jones was selected to be in the Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team. From there, he trained in riot control and embassy clearing.
“Our main job was if an embassy got taken over or an American building in a different country was taken over, we were there to re-establish it and take it back,” he said.
In 2010, Jones and his team were assigned to work as security detail for the U.S. Embassy in Haiti after an earthquake hit the country.
Jones said he felt like he was in a different world after seeing the devastation and got to witnessed how Haitians lived.
“Everyone was lined up and trying to get their U.S. citizenship and a lot of people said that they had family in the U.S. and they just needed some help,” he said. “People really don’t understand how good we have it. If they take a look of what people lived like over there it’s pretty amazing.”
Another story Jones mentioned was his time in Afghanistan where he was transferred to an infantry unit to fight the Taliban.
During his time in the country, he got to see how far behind civilians were in technology.
In addition, Jones said he felt bad about the people living there, because the Taliban controlled everything and the civilians of Afghanistan were terrified.
“They couldn’t really talk to us because if they did, the Taliban would come to their house and kill them; or they charge them more money because that is what they do they tax their people.”
His time in the military came to an end in 2012, when Jones decided to come back to Buffalo and enroll in Eric Community College where he played football for two seasons.
He was excited to get out of the Marine Corps and start a new life, but his biggest challenge was adapting back into civilian life.
“I was kind of angry at the world because people took things for granted. It took me about a year and a half to get use to civilian life again,” he said.
After his time in ECC was up, Jones received a scholarship and enrolled at the University of Texas at El Paso.
He got to experience what it was like to play Division I football, however his time there would be shortened as he sustained multiple injuries during his time at UTEP.
Jones was then contacted by a longtime friend who he knew from the Marines, who convinced him to come back to Buffalo and enroll at Buffalo State.
Assistant coach and offensive coordinator Christian Ozolins was excited to see Jones come back and couldn’t wait for him to play football.
“We weren’t sure whether it was going to happen. Once we saw him there at preseason camp, we were excited and knew our tight end position was going to be elevated,” said Ozolins.
Head football coach Jerry Boyes says Jones means a great deal to this team.
“Teamwork is paramount to success. That means a great deal to Nick and that is something that he has brought to this organization,” said Boyes.
Jones believes that there is a similarity between football and the Marines. He mentions how the two are a brotherhood and that everyone has to count on each other.
“In combat, you’re there for the guy on the left and right of you. If you don’t do your job, your risking somebody else’s life,” said Jones. “In football or during a game, your adrenaline is high and that is the same feeling I had when I was in combat.”
While his time at Buffalo State is coming to an end, Jones is excited to start a new chapter in his life and Ozolins believes that he will do very well for himself when he graduates.
“Nick is a great young man and has gone through some things an 18-year-old or a 24-year-old doesn’t normally go through. I think he is going to be a tremendous success on whatever he decides to do once he is done playing here and get his degree,” Ozolins said.