Coach’s visit in­spires Pan­thers

Siloam Springs Herald Leader - - SPORTS - Gra­ham Thomas

I was walk­ing into the en­trance to Pan­ther Sta­dium near the foot­ball field­house Fri­day when I heard some­one call my name.

I turned around and there was coach Marc Jones.

Like many around Siloam Springs, in­clud­ing a lot of Siloam Springs foot­ball play­ers, it had been quite a while since I’ve seen Jones — the Pan­thers’ de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor in 2014, 2015 and 2016 and still a mem­ber of the Siloam Springs foot­ball coach­ing staff.

This past March, Jones suf­fered a mas­sive stroke and since then, he’s been in hos­pi­tals and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion fa­cil­i­ties in both the cen­tral and north­west parts of the state.

After sev­eral long months of re­hab, Jones is back in North­west Arkansas now and on Fri­day night, he came out to see the Pan­thers play Rogers in their sea­son opener.

After Jones got my at­ten­tion Fri­day, I went over and vis­ited with him and his wife for sev­eral min­utes.

Jones was stand­ing by the pas­sen­ger side of his ve­hi­cle, but there was a wheel­chair there as well for him to use if needed.

He’s lost a con­sid­er­able amount of weight, and one side of his face and body ap­pears to still be strug­gling with the ef­fects of the stroke.

In all hon­esty, Jones ad­mits, he is lucky to be alive.

Jones was very emo­tional in our con­ver­sa­tion, telling me how happy he was to get to see the kids he’s coached for the last sev­eral years. They’re great kids who work hard and de­serve to have some­thing good hap­pen for them, he said.

Jones got to speak to the team re­cently and saw a few of the Pan­thers prior to their game against Rogers.

“Of course, it was pretty emo­tional and ev­ery­thing,” said Siloam Springs head coach Bryan Ross. “Marc is a unique guy. He loves the game of foot­ball and loves coach­ing it.”

As Fri­day’s game started, Jones was seated in his wheel­chair down near the gi­ant foot­ball hel­met and sev­eral Pan­thers went and shook his hand prior to tak­ing the field.

No doubt, his pres­ence gave the Pan­thers a lift as they took on the Moun­ties on Fri­day.

Jones said he doesn’t know if he’s go­ing to wake up each morn­ing. There are no guar­an­tees. And he cer­tainly isn’t tak­ing any­thing for granted.

“If I ever get the chance to coach again,” Jones said fight­ing back tears, “I’m go­ing to be the best coach I’ve ever been.”

Ross said he be­lieves Jones wants to coach again at Siloam Springs.

“I think he re­ally wants to get back at some point,” Ross said. “Hope­fully, he can. He’s cer­tainly an in­spi­ra­tion in a lot of ways. He just talked to the kids about do­ing your best and not tak­ing any­thing for granted, en­joy­ing the op­por­tu­nity that you get in play­ing foot­ball.”

The Pan­thers weren’t able to fin­ish the job Fri­day as Rogers ral­lied to win 34-33. But they looked like a team that’s much im­proved across the board — cer­tainly one that Marc Jones would be proud of.

— Gra­ham Thomas is the man­ag­ing ed­i­tor for the Her­ald-Leader. He can be reached at gth­omas@nwadg.com. The opin­ions ex­pressed are those of the au­thor.

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