It was just a scrimmage.
Just don’t try telling that to Al Jones, the new St. Augustine football coach who returned to the sideline Friday evening.
The former coach-turned principal-turned coach again watched his Purple Knights defeat favored John Ehret.
The win won’t count on Jones’ career record, but still it had to feel pretty good.
“It was a blast,” Jones said. “I’m having a good time. Sometimes it may not have seemed like it out there, but it’s great to be back home with my Purple Knight brothers again. It’s a good feeling. I’m glad I decided to come back.”
Jones, a 1975 St. Aug grad, served as defensive coordinator at his alma mater from 1981-86, long before any of his current players were even born. He coached at Frederick Douglass High from 1994-99.
Then he moved away from coaching, serving most recently as St. Aug’s assistant principal.
But he said his absence from the game hasn’t been a stumbling block in his return to coaching for the first time in over a decade. He considered himself a coach, even when he wasn’t actually coaching.
“I am not doing anything different as far as motivation,” Jones said. “My philosophy is effort, giving 100 percent. The plays aren’t the difference. It’s the attitude and the effort you put behind the plays. Whatever plays you run, you just have to make sure they run it right with 100 percent effort. So my philosophy hasn’t changed.”
It’s that mindset that led principal Sean Goodwin to choosing Jones to take over one of the more high-profile high school head coaching jobs in the state after the school parted ways with Cyril Crutchfield. The stack of applications wanted the job was thick, but Goodwin went with the guy working in the front office.
“He’s loyal, he’s passionate and he believes in discipline,” Goodwin said. “He is an inspirational guy who knows how to uplift the lives of young men. He can help them live out their full potential.”
Sheridan Cooper, who has known Jones since she was 11-years old, wasn’t surprised to see him return to the sidelines. Jones coached Cooper’s brothers back in the 80s.
“His whole purpose is for kids to be the best they can be,” Cooper said. “He wants to do that in whatever aspect that is, whether it’s as an educator or a coach.”
But still, there were some skeptics about the hire of a guy who hadn’t coached since most of his current players were still in diapers. And the skeptics probably started even more chatter during the first part of Friday’s scrimmage, when the Purple Knights’ struggled against an Ehret team that boasts one of the state’s stingiest defenses.
St. Aug started slow.
Heck, Jones admits he got off to a slow start, too.
“I was probably a little too calm and low key at first,” he said with a laugh. “I had to turn my motor on a little bit.”
He eventually pushed the right buttons, as St. Aug went from hardly getting a first down to all of a sudden looking hard to stop.
Quarterback Justice McCoy, who struggled early on, finally got going.
“Coach took me out when he saw me struggling and getting down on myself, but he knew when to put me back in,” McCoy said. “That’s when I started doing better.”
McCoy tossed three touchdown passes, two to Paul Keller, to spark St. Aug win.
The games get a little more meaningful. First, there is Saturday’s jamboree against Karr, then the season opener against McDonogh 35.
Friday was just a scrimmage. Except perhaps to Jones, who was greeted with a hug on the sidelines after he finished his postgame interviews.
He was all smiles.
“I feel like I’m back in the groove a little bit,” he said.