Petey Jones, a popular member of T.C. Williams High School’s legendary Virginia state championship football team in 1971 and a longtime employee of Alexandria City Public Schools, died early Monday morning after a long battle with prostate cancer.
Jones passed away around 2:40 a.m. at Prince William Medical Center in Manassas, Virginia, his daughter Keisha Boggan Campbell said. He was 65.
Jones had just retired last fall after nearly 30 years as an employee of Virginia’s Alexandria City Public Schools, including a long stint as a security officer at T.C. Williams High School. It was there that Jones first rose to fame as a senior football player in 1971, helping lead the Titans on an undefeated state championship run that was later dramatized in Disney’s 2000 film, “Remember the Titans,” in which actor Donald Faison played Jones.
Before that season, Jones had played at George Washington High School before it became one of Alexandria’s three high schools — along with T.C. Williams and Francis Hammond — to merge, sending upperclassmen to T.C. Williams and consolidating the other two into junior high schools.
As Herman Boone, the team’s African American head coach who was portrayed in the movie by Denzel Washington, worked to integrate the team at T.C. Williams, Jones became a magnetic presence, a flirty jokester who was often known for organizing dice games in the bathroom. He also requested to switch from running back to linebacker during his senior year and played a key role for the Titans defense.
“Petey Jones is the best football player I’ve ever coached. He was tough, he was hard-nosed, he was mean, he was agile, mobile and hostile,” Boone said in a telephone interview on Monday. “He was a great kid, a great person. Everybody loved Petey.”
Jones was born at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Alexandria on Nov. 20, 1953, and later attended Charles Houston Elementary and Parker-Gray Middle Schools while playing sports in Alexandria’s youth leagues. After graduating from T.C. Williams, Jones accepted a football scholarship to Norfolk State, but withdrew midway through his sophomore season after having rarely seen the field.
He eventually returned to Alexandria and gave back to the community, joining the Alexandria Parks department in 1986 after a stint working for Eastern Airlines at National Airport.
“He meant a lot to this family, and to the Alexandria community, especially T.C. Williams,” said Jones’s son, Marcus, in a telephone interview on Monday.
Jones later became a beloved security guard at T.C. Williams, where sometimes the male students would joke with him about his character’s famous fumbling problem in the movie, which Jones would later say was fictional.
“And I did not fumble the football,” Jones said in a 2014 story in The Washington Post.
According to that same article, sometimes students at the school would ask him about the racism and segregation he had endured; he would tell them stories about separate water fountains at G.C. Murphy’s in Old Town Alexandria, or the time the team bus got egged at West Springfield High School.
He provided public speaking about his story, which helped fund the ‘71 Original Titans Scholarship Foundation. That platform became more meaningful after Jones had battled his own demons later in life — in 2000, he had been charged with drunken driving for a third time, but he never served jail time — which led him to join Saint John Baptist Church and become a better role model for moviegoers and speech-listeners, as well as his three children, Keisha, Crystal and Marcus, all of whom graduated from T.C. Williams.
“We’re all Titans. We’ve all graduated from T.C. Williams High School. Our father instilled in us a sense of pride in our school, a sense of pride in our community,” Jones’s daughter, Keisha, said on Monday.
“He was our Dad, first and foremost,” Crystal said. “What he gave to us, clearly, he must have gave to the community, the love and support.”
Jones is the third member of the 1971 Titans team to die in recent months. Julius Campbell, a defensive end played in the film by Wood Harris, died in January at age 65. In May, Bill Yoast, who was Boone’s top assistant coach and portrayed by Will Patton in the movie, passed away at 94. Boone himself reflected on the Titans on Monday, remembering fond moments he shared with Jones.
“I’m going to miss him. The team is going to miss him,” Boone said. “The world is going to miss Petey.”