By Jerry Del Priore
When Kamari Jones-Hunter takes the field with the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Monroe College football team on Saturday, September 5th, it will bring the former Canarsie Chiefs star one step closer to fulfilling his dream of playing at the top level of the sport.
But getting to this point in Jones-Hunter’s life required overcoming a great deal of adversity for him and his family.
Approximately eight years ago, his mother, Nicole Jones, was hit by a car in Crown Heights, almost taking her life. The accident caused her to code three times. It also resulted in above-the-knee amputation of both of her legs, a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, followed by years of physical and occupational therapy, she said.
A young Jones-Hunter saw the entire accident unfold before his incredulous eyes. Today, the Starrett City native can barely talk about it. But the 6-foot, 263-pound nose guard uses the tragic memory and love of his mother to inspire him on and off the gridiron.
Jones-Hunter started playing the game at five years old. Football became his life. He would toss a pigskin in the air for hours at a time and tell his mother that one day he would make it to the NFL and take care of her.
“That’s just my fire for football,” Jones-Hunter, 18, said of his mother. “When I make it to the NFL, I’m going to take care of her and then take care of myself.”
The two have an unbreakable bond. So it’s no wonder that her accident has affected Jones-Hunter the way it has.
“It was very difficult, because him and my niece actually witnessed every-thing,” Jones said. “He had to go to counseling.”
But Jones said football has been her son’s saving grace, helping him get through the ordeal and keeping him out of trouble throughout his childhood.
Without his mother and grandfather, Charles Jones, who attended most of his games, Jones- Hunter said his success “wouldn’t be the same without family.”
Moreover, take away the unyielding love, guidance and support of his strong family and his passion for football, his mother said Jones-Hunter might not have the same opportunities that he has today.
“I didn’t want him to end up with the wrong crowd and on the street,” she said. “Football helped him to stay focused and on the right track. I think he would’ve fallen by the wayside, an-other statistic. I didn’t want him to be another statistic.”
Jones made sure of that. While motivation for football rarely lacked, getting her son pumped for the academic piece needed more relentless poking and prodding, even as she endured pain throughout her recovery process.
“I use to say sometimes (to him), when he was a little bit lazy, ‘The same drive and force on the field, you need to carry that over into your academics.’ I think eventually he got it.”
Jones-Hunter’s immediate family didn’t do it alone. Jones’ sister’s brothers-in-law are the Schulters – brothers who starred as Chiefs and had tremendous success in other competitive football levels.
Lance enjoyed a 10-year NFL career; Dwayne stared at the University of Pittsburgh; and Jamal plays professionally in Poland.
However, much of Jones-Hunter’s success can be also attributed to his former coach at Canarsie High School, Kyle Allen, who took the time to help him develop into an All-Star player and made sure he kept up the academic end of high school.
After he played his first year of high school football at Xaverian in Bay Ridge, Jones-Hunter — who recorded 67 tackles, an astounding 21 sacks, an interception, three fumble recoveries, a touchdown and a safety in his senior year as a Chief — wanted to transfer closer to home.
It was the words Allen used, and the care he displayed, that helped the family finally decide on Canarsie.
“Coach Allen said, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to take care of him, and we’ll get him into college.’ That was the first two things I liked to hear: School, as well as be able to still play the sports that he loves, which is football,” Jones explained.
As far how proud his family is of him, Jones- Hunter’s mother lights up at just the mention of him going to college.
“I am beyond proud,” she said. “I am at a loss for words. I’m very proud of his accomplishments, on and off the field.
“He’s so proud of him. My father is on cloud nine,” she added.
And why not? Jones-Hunter, whose dream school is Miami University, is getting a shot at playing at the next level – all because of family and love of football, not to mention years of hard work and dedication in the classroom, weight room and gridiron.