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The Tennessee State Tigers’ Ed ‘Too Tall’ Jones

The Dallas Cowboys legend continues to steer players toward HBCUs

When fans think about football legend Ed “Too Tall” Jones — he is 6-foot-9 — they probably mull his 15 storied seasons with the Dallas Cowboys’ “Doomsday Defense.” Some may know that the Jackson, Tennessee, native is a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity. But he made history in 1974 when he was selected No. 1 overall in the 1974 NFL draft by the Cowboys from historically black Tennessee State University. It was the first time in the franchise’s history that it had the first overall draft choice, and Jones was the first player from a historically black college or university (HBCU) to go that high in the NFL draft. Jones is proud of playing for and attending an HBCU and the draft, he says, was one of the “proudest moments of my life.”

In the early 1970s, Jones was a much sought-after basketball and baseball player looking at colleges. He didn’t know much about football because his high school couldn’t afford a football program, but he’d started studying the game at the encouragement of his brother-in-law, and he liked it. At Tennessee State, he became a two-time All-American defensive lineman. The Tigers only lost two games and won the black college football national championship in 1971 and 1973. Jones ranks third in school history in sacks in a season (12) and fifth in career sacks (38). Here he remembers an early visit to the school.

“My brother-in-law drove me up to Tennessee State. I walked in, met the head coach. He was smoking a cigar at the time and my brother-in-law said, ‘Hi, this is Ed Jones.’ And [Coach John Merritt] said, ‘I know who that is.’ My brother-in-law said, ‘Ed’s interested in going to Tennessee State to play football.’ Coach almost swallowed his cigar. He picked up the phone and called the basketball coach, Ed Martin. They [didn’t] feel they had a chance to get me. They never even recruited me. Ed Martin said to ‘give him anything he wants.’ They thought they would run me off and I’d be there for basketball. I was just a raw talent going in. But I was just determined. I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you today had I gone to a Division I school to try and play football, because they wouldn’t have had the time to work with me. I was a very raw talent …

“So by going to Tennessee State, I will always be indebted to HBCUs. That’s why I go out of my way to recruit for them. That’s why I’m glad when I was in school you had to stay four years. It took four years for me to develop. HBCU schools are the best to me because they give opportunities to people like me. I had heard rumors that Tennessee State would try to roughhouse you and run you off because they didn’t want anybody there that didn’t want to be there and pay that price to be there. They were very proud to be a Tiger during those days. They won a lot of football.

“I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you today had I gone to a Division I school to try and play football.” — Ed “Too Tall” Jones

“I was just determined that I was as tough as anybody they’d ever recruited and they weren’t going to run me off. What I try to do [today when] recruiting for Tennessee State … I tell the guys these [NFL] teams have the best scouting system in all of sports. If you can play, they’re going to find you. So it doesn’t matter where you go to school. And I also tell them if you’re a raw talent and you go to a lot of these Division I schools, they have so much talent there, you’re going to be just another number.”

Kelley Evans is a digital producer at Andscape. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic Southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.