WAYCROSS, Ga. (WSAV) – Porsche Wells gazes down at a trimmed, printed out photo of a child dressed head-to-toe in a Spiderman costume and smiles.
“When he was a little boy, we could not get Ernest out of this Spiderman outfit. He wore it all day, every day.”
Ernest Jones may not be a superhero, but to Porsche, he might as well be.
“My son, a rookie, 22 years old,” Wells said, with a tinge of wonder in her voice. “Super Bowl 56.”
Jones, a linebacker with the Rams, won a ring in his first NFL season when his team defeated the Cincinnati Bengals, 23-20, in dramatic fashion.
Long before the bright lights of SoFi Stadium, the confetti showers and the hoisting of the Lombardi, Jones’ football journey started in Waycross, down on the Okefenokee Swamp. He played just about every position in the youth flag football leagues alongside his brother, Kasai.
“He let me win sometimes, but most of the times I lost,” Kasai Jones said. “I would beat him in video games, but in real sports, I always used to lose.”
“One of the guys that was there [at one of the leagues] saw him and said ‘hey, he’s too good to be playing flag football,’” Wells said.
That conversation led to a four-year stint on the Blackhawks travel football team, which led into Ernest’s high school career at Ware County. Suddenly, Ernest found himself having to sit behind more experienced players, which largely had to do with his slender frame.
“He was a skinny little thing,” Wells said.
“You know, he was about six or six-one during that time, he was going to have to get up to 205 pounds,” said his coach, Franklin Stephens, who now coaches at McEachern High School. “And at that point he was 175.”
Wells made sure to feed her son peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at every turn, not to mention a healthy dose of chicken and rice. Ernest made weight and started playing on Ware County’s varsity team as a junior.
His physical frame and play on the field were not the only things that impressed his coaches.
“One thing that he did was he would sit in the meetings and he knew everything, and that’s when I started figuring out that this kid had a phenomenal football IQ,” Stephens said. “I used to call him Coach Jones.”
University of South Carolina saw that intelligence too and offered him a scholarship. Jones chose the Gamecocks over Auburn, Duke and Florida, among others. Although Wells’ whole family consisted of Bulldog fans, they threw their support behind Jones, who saw his NFL Draft stock rise after three years in Columbia.
At the end of his junior season, Jones declared for the NFL Draft.
“He would always tell me, ma, it doesn’t matter what they say, I’m going to get drafted,” Wells said.
Ernest could be forgiven for having a few doubts about that after hours of watching the second day of the NFL Draft without a phone call from any of the league’s 32 teams.
“Oh man, it was horrible until he got drafted,” Kasai said. “The whole night, I was cold, shaking from nerves, thinking he wouldn’t get picked.”
“It kept going and it kept going. And I could see the frustration in him,” Wells said.
After more than four-and-a-half hours of staring at the screen, Ernest finally got his moment.
“We heard that phone ring. And when we heard that phone ring, I heard him say ‘aw, man.’” Wells said.
“I feel like everyone is proud of him. I think he’s inspired people. They can be like him one day, I guess,” Kasai said.
Wells gestures to the back window of her car in the garage, where she painted a message in gold and blue: “From the swamp to the Super Bowl.”
As soon as the Rams beat the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, signs with that mantra popped up all over Waycross.
Sunday night, Jones made his hometown proud, racking up a team-high six tackles, three quarterback hits and recording a sack of Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow.
Nobody cheered with as much gusto as his mother.
“How many players that you know get that opportunity? So whoever thought it would be my child?” Wells asked.