Whitley: Emory Jones deserves a payoff for his patience

David Whitley
The Gainesville Sun

Emory Jones has the routine down pat. He’ll put on his headphones, get on Florida’s team bus and drift into preparation mode.

As the bus winds from the hotel to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, he’ll listen to a playlist of songs that hasn’t changed in years. One particular favorite will kick in right as the bus passes the band’s practice field.

It’s by the hip-hop trio Migos. The opening line says it all.

“It’s been a long time coming.”

Yeah, 1,355 days to be exact.

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That’s how long it’s been since Jones signed his National Letter of Intent with Florida. It’s also about 1,000 days longer than Jones first imagined this trip would take.

When he steps off the bus today, Jones will be Florida’s starting quarterback. Not Auburn’s or Tennessee’s or FSU’s or any of the other teams that could have used his services in the past couple of years.

Jones is a redshirt junior, meaning he’s spent almost four years waiting, watching, working and wondering if this day would come. Even if you see no reason to pull for the Gators, there’s good reason to cheer for Jones.

He’s a leading member of an increasingly endangered species — the disenchanted quarterback who sticks it out.

Quarterbacks seem to love the NCAA transfer portal. Not Emory Jones.

The transfer portal has become more popular than TikTok with Generation Z. Especially Gen Z quarterbacks.

Of the top nine recruits in the 247Sports Composite for 2018, six are no longer at their original schools. That reflects the growing vagabond trend at every position. Almost 3,000 players hopped in the 2020-21 transfer portal, which didn’t even exist four years ago.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Justin Fields, Joe Burrow, JT Daniels and a lot of other players were/are better off transferring. N’Kosi Perry, whom the Gators will face tonight, is much happier starting at FAU than backing up D’Eriq King at Miami.

There’s nothing wrong with seeking greener pastures. It’s just that there’s a lot right with persevering through adversity. You know the cliches ...

Rome wasn’t built in a day … It’s always too soon to quit ... Patience is a virtue. ...

No less a virtuous man than Abraham Lincoln didn’t totally buy into the phrase, “Good things come to those who wait.”

“Things may come to those who wait,” he said, “but only the things left behind by those who hustle.”

With all due respect to Honest Abe, the phrase doesn’t mean you should sit around waiting. It means you should work hard and be ready when the opportunity arises.

“I’m ready to go out there and show the world what I can do,” Jones said.

It’s taken a lot of work, more than he imagined when he showed up as a 17-year-old early enrollee. Jones was the 10th-rated QB prospect in that 2018 group. The dual-threat prize of Dan Mullen’s first recruiting class.

“We couldn’t be happier to have Emory coming in and being our quarterback of the future,” Mullen said on signing day.

“I want to win the (starting) spot,” Jones said. “I want to be the face of the program.”

He quickly found out he wasn’t at Heard County (Ga.) High anymore. The QB skills were there, but they were raw.

Emory Jones had to wait for Franks, Trask to make their mark

Mullen kept preaching to Jones about “the process,” but it was hard for him to see the payoff. Jones pondered transferring, but his mother kept after him to persevere.

He thought he might get a chance when Feleipe Franks broke his ankle in the third game of the 2019 season. But Kyle Trask turned into a fairy tale come true.

All Jones could do was cheer him on and serve out his apprenticeship. Well, he could have bolted, but he concluded his patience would eventually pay off.

“I did not know it was going to take this long,” Jones said, “but I was getting better every day and developing.”

He’s spent countless hours in the film room, throwing passes in informal workouts, preparing to be the latest member of UF’s QB Club. He’s gotten texts and advice from names like Spurrier, Wuerffel and Tebow about being the face of the program.

“They tell me to embrace it, and make sure I do my best every day and come into the building with energy,” Jones said. “They tell me they’re proud of me for sticking around and waiting it out.”

Not everybody would have, not these days. That’s why it would be nice to see Jones get off the bus today, take off his headphones and walk into a big year.

For all those wondering, it would be proof that good things still come to those who wait.

— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley