JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Malachi Jones went into the National Arena League with no experience playing indoor football.
He finished his first season playing indoor football with the High Country Grizzlies as the rookie of the year. The former Appalachian State receiver won the award at a banquet held in Jacksonville on July 9, one day before the NAL championship game between host Jacksonville Sharks and the Columbus Lions.
Jones caught 66 passes or 685 yards and 16 touchdowns in 10 games for the Grizzlies, leaving him in a tie for third place in the league in receptions. The 3-7 Grizzlies were fourth overall in scoring offense with 44.9 points per game and finished fourth overall in passing with 2,011 yards for the season.
“There are no words I can use to describe it,” Jones said. “I’m extremely blessed and extremely happy that the league voted for me and I just want to say thank you to everybody who was involved in the voting process.”
“It feels amazing,” Jones added. “To know that all of my hard work from day one has paid off — words can’t describe it.”
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Jones signed with the Grizzlies in Oct. 2016 and participated in the team’s second tryout. He said that it took a game for him to get used to the indoor game, but said Jones got a much better feel for it after the Grizzlies hosted Lehigh Valley in High County’s first home game of the season.
“I found my footing after the Lehigh game,” Jones said. “That was my first 100-yard game and my first multi-touchdown game. The week prior, I was still a little nervous, but after the Lehigh game, I felt that I could play this game and make plays and play at a high level. The Lehigh game was when my confidence level went up.”
Jones, a standout receiver at Appalachian State, became one of the Grizzlies’ most popular players with the Holmes Center fans. The team confirmed this popularity by introducing Jones last before home games, and the receiver usually received the loudest cheers from the fans.
He earned respect from App State fans by catching 25 passes for 463 yards an three touchdowns in his senior season with the Mountaineers. He caught 36 passes or 585 yards and three TDs in 2014.
“I’m just another guy on the team,” he said. “I just want to help my teammates out and help the organization win and set an example for the guys around me and the people around me. The fact that I was called out last at home games was a great honor. I’ve got to thank Appalachian State football because they helped me become the person I am today and helped me build that relationship with the fan base in Boone.”
Jones will return to his hometown of Roswell, Ga., located about 30 minutes northwest of Atlanta, and stay in shape should the Canadian Football League or the NFL come calling. NFL training camps generally open the final week of July, and the CFL goes through a period of roster expansion in late August.
Jones hopes that being named rookie of the year by the NAL will lead to a tryout in either league. If Jones doesn’t catch on with the CFL or NFL, he wouldn’t mind returning to the indoor game.
“I think I have an opportunity to do something special in arena,” Jones said. “Obviously, the more time I get to play the better chance I have to understand the game. I’ll definitely, for whatever reason if the CFL or the NFL doesn’t work out, I’ll keep pursuing it and I’ll keep playing. It’s something I’ve gotten really into and it’s something that I would like to dominate, kind of the way I was playing outside football. I want to be the best player I can be.”
High Country Grizzlies fullback Undra Hendrix and kick returner Daron Clark were named to the all-National Arena League’s second team.
Hendrix finished second overall in rushing in the NAL by gaining 298 yards and scoring 12 touchdowns. Known as “the Wrecking Ball,” the 6-0, 285-pound Hendrix averaged 29.8 yards per game, which was third in the NAL. His 85 carries were second to first-team all-NAL fullback, Jacksonville’s Derrick Ross, who had 110 carries for 521 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Clark, known as “Speedy” with the Grizzlies, led the NAL with a kickoff return average of 19.7 yards per attempt. His 453 yards led the NAL.
Clark (5-8- 175 pounds) also caught 40 passes for 554 yards and nine touchdowns. His 13.9 yards per catch was fourth overall and his 55.4 yards receiving per game was 10th.
The duo joins Grizzlies defensive linemen Brandon Sutton and Larry Ford on the NAL’s second team.
Sutton finished with 13 sacks for minus 46 yards. Sutton also had 16 tackles for a loss for minus 16 yards and finished with 33 total tackles.
Ford added seven sacks for minus 27 yards. Ford also had nine total tackles behind the line of scrimmage for 29 yards in losses.
Former Appalachian State defensive end Jabari Fletcher was named first-team all-NAL as a defensive linemen. Fletcher, who played with the Monterrey Steel, had 16 sacks for 74 yards in losses, and had 24 tackles for a loss for 86 yards in losses.