Jonathan Jones is working on a 70-foot beard. Not literally, of course. He’s just planning not to shave his facial hair until he throws the shot put that far, a mark that would likely make him UB’s first-ever NCAA champion.
If his fourth-place finish at the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships in Sacramento, Calif., this past summer is any indication, Jones will be cleanshaven by the start of the outdoor season in the spring—and probably sooner. He threw a personal best 68 feet, 1 inch to place fourth, despite injuring his throwing hand in warmups. The three competitors who finished ahead of him were all professional athletes sponsored by Nike. Jones finished just short of his idol, Reese Hoffa, the 2012 Olympic bronze medalist.
“To throw an inch behind Reese Hoffa, the guy I’ve been watching since I started throwing, that’s just crazy,” says Jones. “I’m still in shock.”
A self-described “teddy bear” from the tiny Cattaraugus County town of Portville, N.Y. (he stands 6 feet tall and weighs 280 pounds), Jones, a senior majoring in psychology, has already established himself as UB’s greatest thrower ever. In addition to the school record, he holds the MAC mark, which stood for 36 years. He currently ranks second in the NCAA, trailing only Ryan Crouser of the University of Texas, who threw 69 feet, 3 ½ inches to win the NCAA title in June.
Astoundingly, this shot-putting phenom began throwing only five years ago. In high school Jones played football and baseball and wrestled. It was his football coach, who doubled as the track and field coach, who urged Jones to try shot put his junior year. Just one year later, he broke the school record held by his uncle, Jack Holcomb.
After seeing Jones’ potential at a high school meet, veteran UB throws coach Jim Garnham wanted him to come to UB, but his grades came up short. Garnham suggested he start out at SUNY Buffalo State and work with then-Bengals coach Faith Thompson, who had been an Academic All-American under Garnham. Jones’ grades improved and he transferred to UB in his sophomore year.
“My expectations now of what he can do are even greater than what I originally thought,” Garnham says. “He’s just one of those amazing athletes.”
With his senior campaign underway, Jones feels his best efforts are yet to come. His goal is to win the NCAA title and place in the top three at U.S. nationals in June, which would qualify him for the world championships in August as a member of Team USA. He’s also got his eye on the 2016 Olympics.
“It’s unbelievable,” Jones says, picturing himself competing on the world’s greatest athletic stage. “I can’t even explain it.”
Next time you see Jones, he may not need to explain anything. The smooth face and wide grin will say it all.
A brief history of shot put
I am a member alumni association, donate money to the university on a regular basis and love the alum magazine. I was reading the article on the shot putter (very impressive) just recently and the article said he would be UB's first ever national champ. That is not all together true. Tom Jacatout (wrestling) not only was he the Div. III natl champion, he was also voted the outstanding wrestler of the tournament in 1980. I know (because) I was a member of the team. Additionally, the 1979 wrestling team, was, and I believe still is to this day, the only national team champ in school history. It was still Div III but national champs nonetheless. Thank you and keep up the good work.