MIAMI (AP) — The scar snakes down the right side of Anthony Jones’ neck, serving as a constant reminder of something the FIU running back doesn’t exactly remember nor will he ever forget.
Had the bullet gone an inch or two in a different direction, he could have died.
Instead, he’s about to go play for FIU in the Bahamas Bowl next week.
Shot in the back on Sept. 6, Jones has been back on the field for several weeks already and is now speaking out about the fateful day when he and FIU offensive lineman Mershawn Miller were hurt in a drive-by shooting outside a home they were visiting in the city of Opa-Locka, a few miles north of downtown Miami.
The wounds have healed. The scar is dissipating. He’s still here.
“That first night, I asked God, ‘Why me?'” Jones said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I did. You know I did. I just wished I could rewind time, man. Why me? I don’t ever do anything to anybody. I’m a good dude. I respect everybody. I’m a respectful man. My momma raised me right. I’ve never done anything to anybody. I just want to play football, graduate, get my degree and help my family.
“I have that chance now. A second chance.”
He’s already taking advantage of that second chance.
In four games since returning, Jones — the brother of Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook — has three touchdowns, two receiving and one rushing. He ran for 158 yards in those games on 37 carries, and the Panthers (8-4) have a chance to set a school record for wins should they beat Toledo in the Bahamas Bowl on Dec. 21.
Other than the scar and some puffiness under his eye, there’s no visible damage.
“The doctor at the hospital when it happened told me, ‘Coach, I’ve been doing this for like 18 years and I’ve never seen anybody survive this,” FIU coach Butch Davis said. “And then he described the bullet wounds, where they went, what they didn’t touch. For that shot to go through and not hit any organs, any bones, any nerve tissue, he said it’s a miracle. It honestly is a miracle.”
Jones and Miller were standing outside the home on Sept. 6 at 2:21 p.m., when surveillance video captured from across the narrow street of single-story homes shows a Nissan Sentra enter the frame. Shots rang out. The next few minutes were a blur; Jones never lost consciousness, but also was unaware that he had been shot.
“My first thought was, I’m not hurt, so good, I can play in two days,” Jones said. “I didn’t think it was real, until I realized the ambulance was coming. And then I saw blood. That’s when I knew it was bad.”
Doctors said Jones was shot in the back, the bullet entering around the collarbone and exiting between the bottom of his left eye and the top of his left cheekbone. He needed surgery because of swelling on the right side of his neck as well, and had to be fed through a tube for nearly two weeks afterward.
Jones’ mother, Betty Cook — anyone who knows anything about football in Miami calls her “Miss Betty” — was on the scene minutes after the shooting. One of the first responders was one of Jones’ youth football coaches, and Jones remembers him telling his mom, “Don’t worry Miss Betty, Ant’s going to be OK.”
That was the only time Jones was confused.
“I was wondering how he knew my name,” he said.
The investigation is continuing, though police have already charged Lorenzo Shine, 26, with two counts of first-degree attempted murder. Shine is a convicted armed robber, someone who had been out of prison for less than three months prior to the shooting, and is facing a slew of other charges related to being a felon in possession of a weapon.
Jones said he does not know Shine, and still has no idea why the shooting took place.
“I don’t know anything about him,” Jones said. “Why it happened. Who he is. I’m just glad they got him, but I don’t know the guy or why he was there or why he did that.”
Shine is being held without bond. No trial date has been set. He will be represented by the public defender’s office and has entered written pleas of not guilty.
Miller was shot in the arm, and has returned to the field for FIU in recent weeks as well. His injury was nowhere near as serious as Jones’, and he was out of the hospital within hours of the shooting. But because the bullet damaged some muscle, Miller’s return to the field actually took longer than Jones’ did.
Jones missed a ton of school time, although he said everyone at FIU has been more than understanding about his situation. His weight is back up. His strength is back to where it once was. It took some convincing, but teammates in practice are actually willing to hit him again now. Things are, somehow, near normal.
Just don’t call him lucky.
Miss Betty would get angry.
“Everybody would come to the hospital and they kept saying to me, ‘Man, you’re a lucky dude, you’re a lucky dude,'” Jones said. “And every time somebody said I was a lucky dude, my mom corrected them fast. That’s the only time she got mad. She kept saying, ‘No, my baby’s not lucky. He’s blessed.’ And then I thought about it, and realized, she’s right. Things could have been so much worse.”
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