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Jones already feels at home with Steelers

Loyalty is a big deal to Steelers' first-round draft pick Broderick Jones.

The offensive tackle showed it at Lithonia High School in Georgia when he got numerous offers to transfer elsewhere but stuck with the Bulldogs and then-head coach Marcus Jelks.

Jones then stuck with his commitment at the University of Georgia despite red-shirting his freshman year as one of the top prospects in the country.

And he's already displaying that kind of loyalty to the Steelers, who moved up four spots in the NFL Draft Thursday night to select him with the 14th pick in the first round.

"That's just who I am," Jones said Friday of his character. "I don't run away from my problems. I run to them. I try to fix them, just like it started in high school. I had already had all the offers. I was playing under a head coach that I liked a lot. There was no point in me leaving. It would have benefited others. It wouldn't have benefited me in the end. So, I just decided to stick it out. (It was) the same thing at Georgia. It all worked out in the end for me."

And Jones already is building that kind of trust and loyalty with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.

The two spoke at Georgia's pro day. They met again during a draft visit in Pittsburgh.

But the meaningful call came Thursday night, when Jones picked up the phone while sitting on his couch next to his mother, Tawanna, at his draft party, surrounded by other friends and family.

Jones said he didn't even look to see who was calling. But he knew who he hoped it would be.

"It was a huge moment, especially when I heard coach Tomlin," Jones said. "My heart dropped because this is where I wanted to be. This was the dream. I'm happy."

Happy, but not satisfied.

In fact, to hear from those who know him best, Jones is never satisfied. He's always got another obstacle he needs to overcome. He's always got another battle to fight in his quest to be the best.

In high school, it was a move to offensive tackle from defensive end.

Jelks saw the supreme movement skills of the freshman – whom he said was 6-3, 240 pounds at the time – on the basketball court where he noticed him as a seventh grader, and told Jones he wanted him to concentrate on being an offensive tackle.

"He was an athlete. He wanted to play defense early on, playing mainly defensive end," Jelks said. "I kind of talked him into converting. He was a natural offensive tackle with his body type. He was a good pass blocker because he had really good feet. He slowly developed and was very, very coachable and made that transition seamless. You could definitely tell at a young age he could be exactly where he is today."

The Steelers' first-round pick, Broderick Jones, arrives in Pittsburgh and is introduced in his first press conference at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex

The athleticism stood out so much that Alabama, which was at a Lithonia practice to talk to star defensive end Jordan Smith – a fourth-round pick of the Jaguars in 2021 out of UAB – offered Jones a scholarship as a freshman.

"They saw him and got to see him move around and everything and wound up offering him right then," said Jelks, now the football coach at Stephenson High School in Georgia.

That changed things for the young man.

He continued to play basketball, where he was a star for the Bulldogs. But football became his passion.

"Once I got that Alabama offer, I knew things were different," Jones said. "It was time to turn it on. I started taking it a lot more seriously, my work ethic, the way I practiced, how I eat, the way I work out, the way I sleep, everything. I just had to change my whole life around and just focus."

The college offers continued to pile up as Jones progressed through high school. So did the offers from other high schools trying to poach away a big-time talent.


Jones spurned them all to stay in his hometown.

"He was kind of a hometown kid," Jelks said. "We kind of had a strong support system with coaches around him in that community that was there. In no way was he looking forward to leaving and going somewhere else."

Jones said it came down to being comfortable with those around him and knowing they had his best interests in mind.

And when the time came to pick a college, Jones again decided to stick close to home, selecting Georgia and head coach Kirby Smart.

Jones, then a 6-5, 285-pound freshman, knew it wouldn't be easy.

And his first practices for the Bulldogs were eye-opening.

"One thing I remember is as a freshman when I first went in – there's this thing you call a dog drill, basically one-on-ones – I had to go against six people that all went first round as a freshman coming in and lost every single rep," Jones said. "It humbled me, but I just continued to work, continued to better myself. But like you said, going versus as many people as I can remember, Travon (Walker), Azeez (Ojulari), Jermaine Johnson, Adam Anderson, Nolan Smith, you have no choice but to get better going against that many first rounders because that's what it is. It's iron sharpening iron every day."

There was no easing into things – except when it came time to decide what the Bulldogs would do with Smith that year.

He wound up taking a redshirt season. And for the first time in his life, he was practicing but not playing.

It wasn't easy.

"Those kids get there at that level and they're used to playing, especially a kid like him," Jelks recalled. "Even as a ninth grader, he was playing varsity. It's always tough when you get to a place like that and you're not playing. He was definitely champing at the bit to get his time at UGA. I continued to talk to him and keep him patient and trust the process."

Jones did keep his eyes and ears open, soaking in everything he could. And he didn't get discouraged by what was happening, despite being the top offensive line recruit in the country.

He could have gone somewhere else and played right away. But that wasn't his journey.

"That wasn't the reason I went to Georgia, you know?" Jones said. "I knew it was going to be tough going in as a freshman, but I wanted to be a part of the building process. Georgia was on the uprise, so I just wanted to be able to be a part of something bigger than me. I feel like Georgia was the best fit for me.

"They had coaches that were able to help me improve my game, on and off the field. So, I just felt like that was the best fit. I didn't feel like that anywhere else I visited. I just decided to stick it out and it worked out for the best."

Jones didn't start his second season at Georgia, either, backing up Jamaree Saylor at left tackle. He wound up starting four games during the season when Salyer – who started 14 games for the Chargers last season as a rookie – missed four games that season with an injury.

The Bulldogs went 4-0 in those starts by Jones, who played in all 15 games for Georgia, including the national championship in 2021 against Alabama. He earned SEC All-Freshman team honors.


Then, when Salyer moved on in the draft, Jones moved into the starting lineup as a redshirt sophomore, starting all 15 games for Georgia. Again, the Bulldogs didn't lose a game with Jones in the starting lineup, winning their second-consecutive national championship.

The Bulldogs went 19-0 with Jones in the starting lineup. He won two national championships and an SEC championship.

That's why, at 21, he was ready for the next challenge.

"I just felt like my job was finished at the University of Georgia," Jones said. "Two national championships, SEC championship, All-SEC... I felt like I did all I could there. I felt like there was nothing left for me to do there. So, it was time for me to move on to bigger and better things."

That has led him to the Steelers and a coach who he already reveres.

"I love him. I love the way he coaches," Jones said of Tomlin. "I love his style. He doesn't back down from anybody. And I love the way he lets his players play. That's something that I'm looking forward to."

But he also knows there will be challenges. Nothing will be handed to him, despite being a first-round draft pick.

He has extreme confidence in his ability. But he also knows he's essentially starting over.

"It's something that's gradually building," Jones said of his confidence. "It's something I'm going to have to get used to again because it's a whole new ballgame once again. Just being able to come in and – like I said when I was going to Georgia – soak up all the knowledge I can, just continue to better myself every day."

That's what the Steelers want out of the young lineman.

They want him to earn a spot in the starting lineup. It won't be given to him. But they're also confident in his ability.

"Broderick is somebody who thinks big," said Steelers president Art Rooney II. "When he first came here to visit us on his 30 visit, when he was in my office, he told me I didn't have a big enough television. When we were meeting today, he reminded me again that I need to get a bigger television. So, he's a bigger guy who thinks big, and that's the way we like it."

When you're willing to take your problems on head on, as Jones is, thinking big can only help you.

Jones is willing to tackle any obstacle.

"I feel like it's helped me a lot in life. Just having that mindset of banging it out," Jones said. "Don't run from your problems, always try and fix them."

And he feels he can fit right into what the Steelers do, even while understanding there is a process involved.

He can't wait to put on the pads and don his No. 77 uniform – a number chosen to honor Georgia teammate and roommate Devon Willock, who was killed in an automobile accident following the team's national championship celebration.

"They told me the number was available, and I just wanted to show my respect by taking that number and letting him live through me," Jones said.

And if things work out the way he expects, he'll be wearing that number for a long time.

"He's definitely got a great head on his shoulders and he's going to do great things," Jelks said. "There's no doubt in my mind. He's going to be one of those guys who's going to be there 15 years. I definitely can see that for him."

Jones sees that, as well.

"Still here, playing under coach (Tomlin)," Jones said when asked where he sees himself in 10 years. "A couple of Super Bowls, a couple of appearances, a couple of wins."

Jones feels he's found a new home, despite having yet to suit up for the Steelers.

"Just because of the energy. The vibe that I get from everybody within the organization," Jones said of what makes him feel that way. "It just feels like I'm at home. It feels like I'm back at Georgia. Feels like I'm back at Lithonia High School. So, I feel like I can thrive in a system like that, where I feel comfortable."