(Photo: Ryan Clarke/WCSN)
Sam Jones made powerful, motivating gestures as he gave his end of summer speech to the ASU football team, pointing to individual teammates and pumping his fist.
“Tougher than hell every day, right? It’s not just a saying, man,” Jones said. “We did it every day of the summer. You can look in everyone’s eyes and know you put it one hundred percent in the bank every single day.”
The most powerful gesture of all came at the end of the speech — the one that got fall camp started — when he picked up a glorified war hammer and smashed the rock at his feet, letting out a roar and breaking the huddle.
A fan of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” might watch this speech and be reminded of Khal Drogo, the leader of the Dothraki horde whose speeches chilled spines. Part of it is the intensity with which Jones delivers the speech, but even more noticeable is how much Jones actually looks like the actor who plays Drogo, Jason Momoa.
“I’ve always had the beard, but I’ve never had the long hair,” Jones said. “I decided to start growing it out and started hearing the comparison from some people.
“As long as he keeps having an acting career I’ll keep being attractive.”
Jones is a diehard Thrones fan. He’s seen every episode — many more than once — and said the strategy, characters and (especially) the violence are what he loves most about the show.
It makes sense that a 6-foot-5, 290-pound offensive lineman loves the violence. He’s been battling linebackers and defensive ends since elementary school.
Despite his size and athleticism, not everyone was on board with Jones joining his friends on the gridiron.
Jones’s mom didn’t want him playing football initially. It took some convincing from his dad — a former all-state basketball player in New Mexico — before she warmed up to the idea. Eventually, she allowed her son to begin imposing his will on opposing defenses.
Almost 15 years later, Jones is an anchor along the Sun Devil offensive line and one of three team captains. He leads through his actions and words, unafraid to call out his teammates for a lack of effort and give constructive criticism that helps them develop.
“Sam has been awesome,” ASU head coach Todd Graham said. “He’s really bold, he’ll step out there and let his voice be heard. He’s been a guy that’s walked the walk and not just talked it.”
Maintaining a workmanlike mindset and a sense of character is how Jones walks the proverbial walk. Football has provided more than just a chance for him to utilize his physical gifts — it’s instilled in him a sense of how he should go about life.
Jones is a favorite among the Sun Devil coaches. He’s not shy about sharing motivational words they’ve imparted on him, so it’s clear that he’s listening rather than going through the motions.
“A lot of people say football builds character, but Coach Graham says it exposes your character. I would agree with that,” Jones said. “I think a lot of people that play football just take it for granted — putting in the extra work, showing up on time and things like that.”
Although it caused him to miss an episode of Game of Thrones (he caught up as soon as he got home), Camp Tontozona was Jones’s favorite part about this fall camp. It was an opportunity to build chemistry and make good on all the motivational phrases the Sun Devils had been hearing.
Above everything else — the violence, the strategy, the speeches — what Jones loves most about football is what a lot of people love about television shows like Game of Thrones: it brings people together.
Every Khalasar needs a Khal, and Jones will gladly lead this ASU team through all of its challenges and triumphs, whether he’s giving a motivational speech or pushing through a final rep in the weight room.
“You get this far into camp, everybody starts hurting and you get tired of getting up every day,” Jones said. “But the only easy day was yesterday. It doesn’t matter if I have my hands full, or if my knee hurts or my back hurts. It’s time to work.”