BELTON — It was so long ago when Tevin Jones last walked off a football field following a game, the picture in his mind of that cold December night in 2017 isn’t as crisp as it used to be — the colors a little more faded by the events of the past year.
“It does feel like forever ago,” he said. “When I got ready to go out for the first practice this month, I was like, ‘Man, it’s been a while since I’ve been in this position.’ It has seemed like an eternity.”
How Jones went from being a third-team All-American in 2017 during Mary Hardin-Baylor’s national runner-up campaign to an exile of the program all of last season is a tale of psychological instability and lapses in judgment.
How he worked his way back into the Crusaders’ good graces and onto the top of the depth chart at linebacker is a story of renewed mental health, growth and forgiveness.
It all started not long before last season began when, while out on the town in the Austin area with a former teammate, Jones had a psychological breakdown of sorts.
“I experienced a psychosis, which is kind of like a disconnect from reality. I had experienced something like that before, but it wasn’t to that extent,” the UMHB senior said. “I was having some delusional thinking and paranoia. It caused me to act completely not like myself, and I did some things that were not like me.”
There was a run-in with the law, followed a few days later by his arrest in Belton on an Austin misdemeanor warrant stemming from that night.
“I was arrested I think on a Thursday, just a few days before we reported (for camp),” he said. “I missed the reporting date and wasn’t released until Tuesday, and that’s when I met up with everybody.”
The UMHB coaches wanted answers and for Jones to own up to his mistakes. The linebacker took a different stance and lashed out against the Crusaders program on social media.
“I wasn’t myself for a while, so much so that I was in a mental hospital for about two weeks. I got on meds to get back to reality, so to speak,” Jones said. “It was a real tough time for me and tough time for my family.”
For UMHB head coach Pete Fredenburg, it was more bewildering than anything else.
“Everything that transpired and all the negativity, I knew something was wrong as soon as it happened because that’s just not him,” Fredenburg said. “It started to make sense immediately when we found out he was having some sort of chemical imbalance.”
Once he began taking medication to treat his mental state, Jones saw the error of his ways. What ensued was a period of soul-searching along with worry that he had burned his bridges with UMHB.
“When I got back on my feet and came to grips with myself, I realized the opportunity that I had given up and how I could have handled the situation a lot better and how a lot of it could have been prevented,” he said. “I was dealing with the fact that I felt like I let my teammates down, which is what got to me the most. Then I was trying to come to grips with everything. I was thinking, ‘I blew it. I completely blew it with these people.’
“Once the first game came, I thought, ‘Man, I could still be out there.’ They were trying to work with me and understand, and I just handled it the wrong way. It was a lapse on my part. For a while, I thought I had really screwed up with this school and that I wouldn’t get a chance again.”
That wasn’t the case.
Hopeful that his time as a Crusader wasn’t over, Jones knew the initial step toward a return to the football program was getting back in school.
After a pair of meetings last January to clear the air with university officials, the stipulation was that he succeed in the classroom and maintain his health during an incident-free spring semester before any talks of getting back on the field.
A decision about Jones’ future with the football program didn’t rest enirely in Fredenburg’s hands.
“He and I had talked during the season, but I just wanted him well,” Fredenburg said. “For him to get well and get back into the program, I knew there were a whole lot more people involved in it than just me and our football team.”
A successful spring in which the 6-foot, 220-pound Belton product continued to work out on his own helped earn him a spot on the roster, and Fredenburg is guiding him back into a leadership role.
“I want him to take some ownership with this team,” Fredenburg said. “The whole time he was gone, he was by himself and within himself. Now all of the sudden, he has to give to his teammates.”
Jones has moved on from the dark days of last year and into the spotlight for a national championship contender during his final semester before graduating with a degree in exercise and sport science.
Everything that happened changed him as a person, and it serves as fuel for one more season with the purple and gold.
“Through this whole process, I had to be honest with people and open up to people about a part of my life that I had to deal with alone for a while,” he said. “I’ve always felt like I’ve played like an underdog, but this season I definitely do have a chip on my shoulder. It’s a great chance at redemption for me.”