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McKEES ROCKS, Pa. - As Paul Jones sat in front of a U.S. Army banner in the Sto-Rox High School gymnasium Wednesday afternoon waiting to accept his selection as a participant in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, students and teachers filed into the bleachers and the Vikings pep band belted out a version of the Bar-Kays' classic "Soul Fingers."
"You can all take pride in this award," Sto-Rox Athletic Director Bill Palermo told the assembled student body. And while he was referencing the linemen, receivers and running backs who helped make Jones successful on the football field, Palermo very well could have been speaking to everyone sitting in the gym.
For his part, Jones plans to use his opportunities in San Antonio and at Penn State - where he will enroll in January - to change the perspective outsiders have about Stowe Township, McKees Rocks and Sto-Rox High School.
"There are people that look down on Sto-Rox because we have sort of a bad reputation, but I just want to clear everything up and let them know that there are good people here," Jones said after the formal presentation on Wednesday. "It's a shame that we just get put out there for all the bad stuff and nobody pays attention to the good stuff."
In his football career at Sto-Rox, Jones, the No. 7 pro-style quarterback in the nation and the No. 4 prospect in Pennsylvania, did plenty of good stuff, throwing for 5,617 yards, 60 touchdowns, and just 16 interceptions. Not bad for a guy who almost didn't play football in high school.
"I wasn't even going to play high school football…I was just going to play basketball and baseball. I really wasn't too good at football in my early years," Jones said.
"I've seen a lot of athletes come through here, a lot of great athletes, but from what I saw this year, this guy is probably the best football athlete we've had," Palermo said. "I hope to see him four or five years down the road getting me tickets to his NFL game, because it's a possibility."
Still, getting selected to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl wasn't just a reflection of Jones' ability on the football field.
"He's one of the most humble kids I've ever met, especially with the abilities he has and everything that follows," said Staff Sergeant Jason Clevenstine, who presented Jones with his U.S. Army All-American Bowl jersey. "He's always polite, he's always kind, it's always 'Yes sir, no sir.' He's been a good friend, and he stands for everything that the Army stands for. He could be that flashy guy, but he's not; he's true to his team, he's true to his friends, his family. He's a stand-up guy."
And just like Jones' selection wasn't based entirely on football, his interest in the All-American Bowl wasn't completely based on the game itself. He said that the Army's affiliation made the event all the more appealing.
"There's so many things that they do for us, making sure that we are safe when we go to sleep and when we wake up," Jones said. "I could have played in the Under Armour game, but the Army is the Army. I wanted to show my appreciation for what they do for us every day
Still, the list of former Army All-American Bowl participants - particularly at quarterback - reads like a who's who of the top players in the current NFL and college games. Tim Tebow, Vince Young, Brady Quinn, Mark Sanchez, and Terrelle Pryor all played in the All-American Bowl over the past seven years.
"I turn on the TV every Saturday and watch college football players who played in this game, so it's an honor to be mentioned in the same breath as them.
"It's crazy. Words can't explain how excited I am to play in this game."
Jones will be joined in San Antonio this coming January by fellow Penn State commits Khairi Fortt, Silas Redd, Mike Hull and Zach Zwinak, and he's anxious for the quintet of future Lions to put on a show.
"I've talked to Silas Redd, just letting him know that on January 9 we have to go out there and let them know that Penn State's going to be on top, because we think we're that good and we want to show it everywhere we go."
After that, Jones will pack his bags for State College.
"I just expect to get back to work. There's never really any such thing as an offseason, but there's more of an offseason here in high school. I can't wait to constantly have football. I'm excited to see how good I get."