The last time most high school students in Connecticut had the opportunity to play tackle football was in November of 2019. That year’s obviously seniors knew their high school athletic careers were ending, but the juniors had no reason to expect they would not have another season on the field.
The ramifications of losing a football season go far beyond not getting to play for a year, it impacts the programs and the kids trying to create opportunities to play in college. One of the biggest ways that kids traditionally made connections with coaches spread their name were through camps and bowl games, which were primarily canceled in the pandemic. The Hawaii Tiki Bowl, however, a high school bowl game usually set in Honolulu, refused to take a year off and moved its event to Orlando, Florida.
A handful of football players from Connecticut received invitations last April, when there was still an expectation the game could be played in Hawaii, but only Bristol Central senior Tre Jones made the trip down to Florida for a reunion with the gridiron and the goal of receiving a collegiate offer.
“It was a pretty good experience,” Jones said. “I just wanted to play after a long time of not playing.”
Playing on a team that featured kids from New England, Jones made a lasting impression in the game. He caught multiple passes and brought one in for a touchdown in addition to intercepting a pass. This game was his first chance to play safety, as he traditionally plays linebacker for Central, and he was able to succeed there in his first live game.
“It was actually pretty exciting,” Jones said. “Seniors from like all over the country were playing there. It was a good experience, there were a lot of good people there.”
Jones said the most valuable thing he learned at the bowl game was the importance of team chemistry. With only two practices before the game during his five-day trip, he was given a new appreciation for what it takes to build bonds with teammates and how much better the team plays once they are built.
“It was kind of difficult,” Jones said. “It wasn’t enough time to get enough chemistry going to play in a game against other people. They were going through the same thing so I see that it’s kind of equal, but not really. It was fun getting to play with different people I’m not used to playing with.”
The event is run mainly by junior college and NAIA coaches who can help introduce many of these kids to the recruiting process. While Jones is yet to receive an offer to play college football, he hopes to get one soon. He said his other plan is to get into East Carolina University, which he described as his “dream school since I was young,” and walk on to the football team there.
“I have family down in the Carolinas so that’s another plus,” Jones said. “It just seems like a good school for me. Their offense is pretty nice, I like the way they run.”
Obviously willing to play anywhere on the field, but Jones would hope to play slot receiver in college if given the opportunity.
“I like to think that I have really good hands,” Jones said. “My route running is really nice, I’ve been told by multiple coaches.”
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org