Star RB Thomas Jones outruns them all

Kevin Mays • May 24, 2020 at 2:30 PM

The football sections of the VHSL, Atlantic Coast Conference and University of Virginia record books could be confused with memory books for Thomas Jones.

The former All-Pro running back made his mark during his successful 12-year career in the NFL before retiring from the game after the 2011 season.

Before that, Jones’ name littered the high school and collegiate record books where he played.

At Virginia, Jones set 15 school and eight ACC records. Many of them still stand, including the career rushing mark of 3,998 yards at Virginia.

Jones is in the top 10 in eight VHSL rushing categories, including holding the Class 2 record for most yards in a season (3,319). The yardage record was tops in the state across all divisions until 2017 when Heritage’s Elijah Davis went for 3,603 yards.

In his high school career at Powell Valley, Jones rushed for 7,193 yards and 104 touchdowns while helping the Vikings win state championships in 1994 and 1995.

Jones’ high school career was recognized this week in an unofficial social media poll where more than 1,000 votes were cast by fans to determine the best running back in far Southwest Virginia high school history.

Like he did so many times on the gridiron, Jones ran away from the field, garnering close to 20% of the total votes.

“That’s an unbelievable honor,” Jones said when informed of the results. “It ranks as high as any other honor I’ve received.

“There have been a lot of great backs that have come out of there, many of them before me. I was inspired by a lot of those backs.”

Jones said playing in the always-tough Lonesome Pine District helped prepare him to play in the ACC at Virginia and, ultimately, in the NFL.

“Some of the best high school football in the country has been played in that area,” Jones said. “There have been some great games and great rivalries like Powell Valley and Gate City and Powell Valley and Appalachia.”

After being selected by the Arizona Cardinals with the seventh overall pick of the 2000 draft, Jones’ NFL journey also included stops in Tampa Bay, Chicago, New York with the Jets and Kansas City.

He rushed for 10,591 career yards, which stands as 26th best in NFL history. Jones had six seasons of more than 1,000 yards rushing.

In 2006, Jones rushed for 1,210 yards and was a huge factor in the Bears winning the NFC championship.

Jones was nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2020.

After retiring, Jones embarked on an acting career. Among his credits, he has appeared in the acclaimed movie “Straight Outta Compton” and starred in the film “A Violent Man.” He had recurring roles on the television series “Being Mary Jane” and “Luke Cage.”


Here’s a look at the remainder of the top 10 running backs out of far Southwest Virginia as selected by the voters in the social media poll:

• Julius Jones, Powell Valley — The younger brother of Thomas, Julius Jones was a star at Powell Valley and Notre Dame before heading to the NFL.

During his Powell Valley career, he had 5,803 career rushing yards and 95 touchdowns and helped the Vikings win a pair of state championships.

At Notre Dame, Jones rushed for over 3,000 yards for his career and broke the school’s single-game rushing record with 262 yards.

His seven-year career in the NFL included one 1,000-yard season. Overall, Jones rushed for 5,068 yards and 22 touchdowns while playing for Dallas, Seattle and New Orleans.

• Edd Clark, Appalachia — He was known as the Stonega Stallion from Southwest Virginia all the way to Indiana, where he was recruited by Purdue.

Clark, an uncle to Thomas and Julius Jones, rushed for 5,908 yards in his high school career.

In his junior season, he ran for 449 yards and scored seven touchdowns in a game against J.I. Burton.

Clark died in 1986 at a Florida beach while trying to rescue children from drowning.

• Glenwood “Boo” Sensabaugh, J.I. Burton — He is known to most as Boo.

An 1994 all-state player for Burton, Sensabaugh broke school records for yards in a season (2,396), touchdowns in a season (32), TDs in a career (62) and TDs in a game (6).

Sensabaugh played for West Virginia at defensive back.

He was inducted into the J.I. Burton Hall of Fame last year.

• Johnny McFall, Clintwood — McFall helped lead his team to back-to-back state championships (1974-75). He scored often for the Greenwave, finishing his career with 606 points.

In his senior year alone, McFall accounted for 309 points, including 50 against Appalachia.

• “Bullet” Bill Dudley, Graham — Long before most on the list were making headlines, there was Bill Dudley and there have been none like him in Southwest Virginia.

Bullet was a star at Graham before going to Virginia as a 16-year-old freshman in 1938.

In 1941, he led the nation with 18 touchdowns.

After being picked No. 1 overall by Pittsburgh in the NFL draft in 1941, Graham was drafted again, this time by the Army.

After serving his military duty, Graham returned to the NFL and played nine seasons with Pittsburgh, Detroit and Washington.

In 1946, after playing both offense and defense, Dudley was named the league’s MVP after leading the NFL in both rushing and interceptions.

During his NFL Hall of Fame career, Dudley rushed for 3,057 yards, totaled 1,383 receiving yards, scored 18 rushing touchdowns and 18 receiving touchdowns, kicked 33 field goals and intercepted 23 passes.

• Phil Rogers, Gate City — Rogers led Gate City to the 1970 VHSL Group AA championship.

Rogers and his brother Stan formed a furious duo on the ground for the Blue Devils.

Rogers went on to a hall of fame career at Virginia Tech, where he started at running back in 1973 and 1974 and became the school’s first African American starting quarterback in 1975.

During his Hokies career, he rushed for 2,461 yards and 17 touchdown and completed 23 of 53 passes for 379 yards and three touchdowns.

• Mickey Rogers, Gate City — The youngest of the Rogers brothers, Mickey led the Blue Devils to the 1974 state championship.

Rogers rushed for over 1,700 yards and 29 touchdowns his senior season, including 299 in the state championship game.

• Ahmad Bradshaw, Graham — Bradshaw’s high school career was his springboard to a journey that ended with a nine-year NFL stint that included two Super Bowl championships.

Bradshaw rushed for 5,265 yards and 92 touchdowns for the G-Men. At Marshall, he had 2,982 yards and 31 touchdowns on the ground and 697 yards and five touchdowns through the air.

The New York Giants drafted him, and Bradshaw spent six years with the team, winning two Super Bowl rings along the way. He played three years with Indianapolis before retiring after the 2015 season.

• Devon Johnson, Richlands — Johnson was a three-time all-state player from 2009 to 2011.

He was solid on both sides of the football, rushing for over 1,800 yards and 32 touchdowns on offense and recording over 100 tackles on defense in his senior year.

Johnson went to Marshall where he rushed for 2,373 career yards, including a school-record 272 against Florida Atlantic in 2014.

Johnson signed with the Carolina Panthers as a free agent in 2016 but was hampered by injuries.

He unexpectedly died in a Bluefield hospital in 2018 at the age of 25.


Also receiving a significant number of votes were:

Tyrone Brown, Abingdon; Travis Clark, Harry Gaines and Shane Gibson, Appalachia; Martinez Miles, Sam Daniels, Connor Litton, Jaycob Coleman, Reggie Sensabaugh, Malik Miles and Josh Miles, J.I. Burton; Justin Hamilton, Clintwood; Jeff Williams and Mike Hamm, Coeburn; Stan Rogers and Jake Houseright, Gate City; Leonard Graves, Graham; Red Phillips and David Scammel, Grundy; Jeffrey Bowen, Haysi; Dakota Humphrey, Patrick Henry; Neal Sample, Honaker; Greg Tester, Hurley; Eric Meadows, Lebanon; J.W. Carter and Jimmy Carter, J.J. Kelly; Sam Woolwine, William King; Tyler Graham and Eric Satterfield, Lee High; Larry Bales, Marion; Bo Buchanan, Northwood; Keith Hall, Powell Valley; Brannon Breeding, Caleb Jennings and Sandy Rogers, Richlands; Trenton Adkins, Ridgeview; Beattie Feathers and Gene McEver, Virginia High; Cody Cain, Thomas Walker; Yogi Arnold and David Barrett, R.B. Worthy.

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