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Jacoby Jones (8) WR on Ohio Univerity's Football team looks to the coaches in Peden Stadium in Athens, OH on Sept. 16,

Odyssey to Ohio: Tank Pearson and Jacoby Jones became family throughout their collegiate careers

On a hot summer day in the middle of training camp at Northwest Mississippi Community College, no two players were practicing harder than now Ohio Wide Receiver Jacoby Jones and Ohio Defensive Back Tank Pearson.

Lightly recruited out of small Mississippi high schools, Jones and Pearson elected to bet on themselves by going the junior college, or JUCO, route by way of NWMCC to keep their football-playing days alive.

"It's really just taking the chance because you don't really know," Jones said. "I might not have another opportunity to play football after this."

Pearson and Jones had a unique relationship when they arrived at Northwest. They quickly became teammates, friends and fierce adversaries.

"With Tank, it was more competitive because he was a defensive back," Jones said. "So we would always give each other a hard time."

Pearson had a similar sentiment about his relationship with Jones early in their Northwest careers.

"It's crazy, me and Jacoby used to get into it when I first got there," Pearson said. "...It's true, me and him used to get into it every day at practice, but I had to make sure I kept going with him because he was one of the best guys (on the team), so I just wanted to get better at my craft."

For Jones, a player with Power Five–aspirations after a storied high school career, the realities of the hardships and struggles of JUCO weren't easy.

"I won't say it's (JUCO) the worst experience, but it's not pleasant," Jones said. "...You kind of just have to go in every day with the mentality to just grind and do everything you can to get out."

Pearson shared the off-the-field perspective of the challenges JUCO schools can provide.

"JUCO is rough man," Pearson said. "It's not even playing-wise, you've got to think like outside of school with the dorms, it's just hard to make it out."

Through the struggles of strenuous practice and fierce one-on-one battles, Jones and Pearson improved to step up as major contributors. Their abilities, along with the emergence of now Ohio Defensive Tackle Rayyan Buell, led Northwest to an undefeated season in 2020.

The three soon-to-be-Bobcats each had their signature moments in the COVID-19-shortened season. In Northwest's overtime win over Northeast, Jones had over 100 receiving yards along with ten catches, while Buell had 2.5 sacks with a forced fumble.

In the MACCC Championship game, Pearson had a 70-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Through the course of the Rangers' undefeated season, not only did Pearson and Jones become much better football players, but they also became much better friends.

"(The struggle) definitely made us closer," Jones said. "I feel like anytime you're going through anything hard you need people around to constantly motivate you and help you get through it."

The historic season was over, and Jones was ready for a different level of competition. Jones and Buell decided to transfer to Ohio, and after another championship-winning season for the Rangers, Pearson wasn't far behind.

"I was talking to them (Buell and Jones) while recruiting was going on, asking them if they liked it," Pearson said. "Jacoby told me it was a good place to come, so I just kept his word and held him to that."

For Pearson, the move to Ohio was needed. He wanted to explore the country outside of the state he spent most of his life in. Jones, on the other hand, was understandably homesick. Luckily for Jones, he and Pearson went from the closest of friends to family at Ohio.

"The biggest thing that was hard for me to adjust to was being away from family for the first time and having guys like Rayyan and Tank here with me, people that were experiencing the same thing that I experienced, definitely made it easier just knowing that I had people, and I don't consider them friends, they're more like family to me," Jones said. "So just knowing that I still have family around... It's been great."

With the help of his teammates in avoiding homesickness, Jones made an instant impact. In 2022, Jones was one of Ohio Quarterback Kurtis Rourke's favorite targets with 45 catches 776 yards and six touchdowns.

Buell too made plenty of plays in 2022, with two sacks and nine tackles in nine appearances.

It wasn't until Ohio's game against Bowling Green this year though when it felt like Northwest again. 

Despite an injury, Jones came up with four catches for 86 yards in one quarter. Buell came up with a huge sack and Pearson had a tackle for loss on fourth down to end Bowling Green's hopes.

From an outsider's perspective, Ohio's win against Bowling Green was three guys making a couple of plays.

To Jones and Pearson, it was the culmination of years of fierce competition, the closest of friendships and hard work paying off in one game.

"Making plays was the stuff we talked about in JUCO," Pearson said. "So this is the kind of stuff you dream of."


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