New Niles football coach Antwon Jones (left) talks with potential players Thursday evening in the cafeteria. Jones, who coached at South Bend Washington the past few years, is a former University of Notre Dame defensive end under Lou Holtz and Bob Davie. (Daily Star Photo/AMELIO RODRIGUEZ)

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Jones named new Niles coach

Published 9:32pm Thursday, March 22, 2012

Former South Bend Washington coach Antwon Jones was introduced at Niles High School Thursday evening as its new football coach.

Jones, who played defensive end at Notre Dame for Lou Holtz and Bob Davie, took Washington from a 0-9 program in 2007 and transformed the Panthers into a winning football team.

His first team in 2008 won seven games. From there the Panthers were not only consistent winners, capturing 33 victories in four seasons, but a winner in the postseason.

Washington won its first sectional game since 2001 when it went 8-3 in Jones’ second season. In 2010, the Panthers went 7-4 and won another sectional game before having to forfeit those victories due to an ineligible player.

In 2011, Jones and South Bend Washington reached Lucas Oil Stadium and the state championship game before falling. The Panthers were 6-3 in the regular season and went on to win its first sectional championship since 1977 and played in its first title game since winning the 1973 crown.

Jones will be trying to achieve that same type of success with the Niles program. The Vikings have not had a winning season since 2003 and have been 4-5 each of the last four years.

Jones replaces Dan Brawley, who resigned earlier this year to take over the vacant boys golf position.

“In Antwon Jones we have found a remarkable coach to lead the Viking football program into the future,” Niles Principal Jim Knoll said.

“We were very impressed with the quality of candidates for our open head football coach position,” Vikings’ Athletic Director Jeff Upton said. “With 25 applications, we took careful consideration narrowing down the candidates. Once we did, the accomplishments of coach Jones in a short period of time at South Bend Washington certainly overshawdowed many of the other candidates.

“We are happy to have Coach Jones head our program and look forward to his leadership and dedication in directing our student-athletes.”

While some may wonder why a coach would leave a program that had just played for a state championship for one with a recent record of losing seasons, the reason was simple — family.

He is married to 1994 Niles graduate Heather (DeGroot). He used to live in Niles and he has family in the community.

“Looking at it from a football standpoint, it gives us a chance to do what you really want to do as a coach. Build a program from the lowest levels of Pop Warner or Rocket Football, through your junior highs to the high school level. ”

Jones met with the players at South Bend Washington earlier in the day before holding a meeting with the Niles team in the cafeteria at 5:30 p.m.

“The kids understand the nature of this game and this business,” he said of his meeting with the Panthers. “They also understand that you have to do what is in the best interest of your family. In my opinion, coming up here is in the best interest of my family.”

Jones will be bringing with him three members of his Washington staff.

All have played at least at the next level. One, Reggie Brooks, played in the National Football League for the Washington Redskins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Brooks will coach the running backs this season for the Vikings. Jarvis Edison, who played free safety for the Fighting Irish, will be the defensive coordinator.

Weston Lambert played at Liberty University. He will coach the linebackers.

He plans on interviewing potential coaching candidates in the near future.

Jones, who played high school football in Piqua, Ohio, is a school resource officer with the South Bend Detective Bureau.

He has a no-nonsense approach when it comes to football and believes that to be successful you have to work at it. He plans to begin that work Monday afternoon when players who are not currently playing a sport are to report to the weight room.

Jones is also going to have a mandatory study table each and every day. He told the players who attended the meeting Thursday that they have to be successful in the classroom as well as on the football field.

One of the first teams Jones faced when he took over at Washington was Niles in a 7-on-7 passing league. He knows that the team has fallen upon hard times of late, but believes the talent is there to be successful.

“I knew from back then that they had a lot of athletes and a lot of potential,” he said. “I watched all the games from this season. It’s there. We just have to get it out of them, and we are going to get it out of them whether they like it or not.”

Jones also knows that the Vikings have been close to breaking through and snapping that streak of winless campaigns.

“That’s why we are here,” he said. “To push them over the edge.”

Jones said that the biggest challenge he will face is getting the kids to understand they are there to push them.

“They have to learn to accept that,” he said. “We are going to get out there and compete against other schools. We are going to go to these universities in the MAC (Mid-American Conference) and compete in these 7-on-7s. We are going to get out and get them to compete against a lot of people. We are not just going to compete, but we are going to win.”

Besides putting a winning squad on the field, Jones and his staff also want to give the Niles players exposure to the colleges, so that they have an opportunity to compete for a scholarship if that is what they want to do.

“We want to start opening up those pipelines like we did at Washington,” Jones said. “When we first got to Washington we couldn’t get Indiana State to even return a call. Now we have people from Oregon, Florida, everywhere in the country to come and recruit our kids. This year we have four kids going Division 1. That’s where Niles is going to be shortly.”

Antwon and Heather have three children, Ayralynn (14), Kros (4) and Auden (7). Jones said he is looking forward to coaching Ayralynn in the near future, but for now he is focused on turning around the Niles program immediately.

“It’s going to be a new era of football here in Niles,” he said. “We are going to do everything we can to get the program going in the right direction.”

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