Columbia College doesn't have a football team, but Columbia, Mo., does – the fighting Falcons.
Robert Jones is a Columbia College history major.
A history major with a badly bruised pinky. And turf toe. And aching hips. His knees aren't too great, either.
"Yesterday they put me in as defensive tackle," Jones says. "I hit the gap, and the quarterback was right in front of me." So was a 300-pound lineman. "He gave me a little shove, and I twisted my knee."
Jones plays for the semi-pro Columbia, Mo., Falcons. The team, now in their second year, does not have a permanent home and plays against such teams as the Sugar Creek Shockers, Council Bluffs Crusaders and Omaha Outlaws at Rock Bridge High School in Columbia and Central Methodist University in Fayette. The league has attracted players hoping to secure college scholarships or go on to the NFL — players who pay to play, who do it for sheer love of the game. The NFL, unlike baseball, has no official minor league system.
Jones is not 18. He's married, with four kids, and safely into his 30s. A Columbia native, he attended but did not play football at Hickman High School.
"I was always too busy with homework and work," he says. "There was no time for sports. But I was always a big fan."
Jones then tried college, but like many young folks, found it didn't agree with him. So he joined the Marines, serving two stints in Kansas City and Quantico, Va. He was honorably discharged in 2002.
A few years later, he was coaching for the Columbia Youth Football League and watching his kids run the 40-yard dash. He wasn't terribly pleased.
"I said, 'Let me show you how it’s done,' " he says. He ran the 40 in 4.9 seconds – "For being old and out of shape, with the bad knees that I got in the military, that's not too bad!"
Jones decided to try out for the Falcons. But he was also realistic.
"I am too slow to be a running back or receiver," he says. "I can't catch all that good, I am not big enough to be a lineman — so I thought, I'll try for linebacker." He made the team, but had to bulk up to his current 210 pounds from around 190. In the first two games, he only was called on three times.
But that's okay. "It's about living a dream," he says.
And if, as looks increasingly likely, there's an NFL lockout this season, he's ready — even if he never plays.
"I would be happy to step into a practice squad for 30 grand a year," he says.
In the meantime, he returned to Columbia College in 2010 and is minoring in legal studies and plans to go to law school; he is already deeply into LSAT practice manuals. He says he'd like to go into family law or prosecution. "I have moral issues being a defense attorney for criminals that if I know, or if I have a hint of doubt about their innocence, I do not think I could live with myself if they got off."
And if law school doesn’t work out?
"Maybe I'll go back and get a master's degree in education and teach," he says. "I like working with kids."
Jones is living his dream.