Set to take flight, Jensen Jones takes home 30th annual Winged Foot award

St. John Neumann senior Jensen Jones takes to the podium upon receiving the 30th Winged Foot Scholar-Athlete award during Thursday night's banquet at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort. GREGG HARDY/CSI

BY GREGG HARDY
CSI EDITOR

Air Force-bound quarterback Jensen Jones was already flying high, having won Collier County’s top football award in addition to being named Class 2A Player of the Year.

Now, he’s got a Winged Foot to help him soar even higher.

The St. John Neumann standout received the 30th annual Winged Foot Scholar-Athlete Award during Thursday night’s banquet at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort. In addition to the award (which is given to Collier County’s top student-athlete as decided by the Winged Foot Selection Committee), Jones will receive a $10,000 scholarship — $2,500 a year for four years.

“I wish I could (put it into words),” said Jones, who scored 48 total touchdowns while leading the Celtics to a 10-2 record and their first-ever playoff victory last season. “I’m still speechless right now because I didn’t think my name would be called. It’s just another cherry on top. This year has been amazing — not only for me, but for my teammates and my school community around me. It’s crazy.”

PHOTO GALLERY: View images from the Winged Foot awards banquet

RELATED: Celtics get first look at Jones’ replacement in spring jamboree

Indeed, it’s been a big year for Celtic Nation.

Besides Jones, three other SJN students — Sophie Shrader (golf), Maddie Burt (swimming) and Alex Myrin (track and field) — took home athlete of the year trophies at Tuesday night’s Southwest Florida Sports Awards. Also, several Neumann athletes finished runner-up or among the top 5 at the state track and field championships; and the girls basketball team returned to prominence by winning a district title.

Sharing in Jones’ big night was his father Damon, who is also the football coach and athletic director at St. John Neumann.

“We’re blessed. He had a phenomenal season,” said Damon Jones, who was a 1991 Winged Foot finalist as a student at Lely High School. “These awards … he hates this stuff. He’s so humble, and he hates the limelight … but it’s well-deserved.”

Thursday was also Graduation Day for Jones and his fellow St. John Neumann seniors. While his days as a high school student are over, Jones said there’s still one thing left for him to do as a Celtic.

“I’ll have my headset,” he deadpanned about Friday night’s spring football game.

Then, before he knows it, Jones will be off to Colorado and the Air Force Academy for basic training.

But … what about that ’do? Jones said he’s going to have to shave off his trademark locks.

“I’m not looking forward to it,” he said.

RIPKEN REGALES

Cal Ripken shared his own big-league experiences as he delivered the keynote speech during the 30th annual Winged Foot Scholar-Athlete Awards Banquet. GREGG HARDY/CSI

Each year, the Winged Foot Scholarship Foundation brings in a sports luminary to give the keynote address. No doubt, some are viewed as super heroes to younger fans and athletes.

This year, it was the Iron Man who showed up. No, not Iron Man of “Avengers” fame. The Iron Man … Cal Ripken Jr., who on Sept. 6, 1995 played in his 2,131st straight game to surpass Lou Gehrig’s long-standing Major League Baseball record. (Ripken ended up playing in 2,632 consecutive games).

A first-ballot Hall of Famer who played all 21 of his big-league seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, Ripken spoke about two things, in particular:

• Play with honor. Stealing signs? The hidden ball trick? That’s not “the Ripken Way.” Ripken recalled his dad — who spent 36 years in the Orioles organization — saying, “The hidden ball trick has no place in professional ball, and maybe not even in amateur ball.” (One opponent gave Ripken a “thank you” after Ripken warned him that Baltimore’s second baseman was trying to get him out using the hidden ball trick.)

Said Ripken: “What is the right way to go about doing something? What is honorable way to go about doing things in business or in sport?”

• Treat younger players with respect. Getting ready for a road trip, former Orioles pitcher Armando Benitez nixed a rookie hazing ritual by refusing to wear a dress to the airport. After a couple of veterans were sent in — unsuccessfully — to cajole Benitez into wearing the dress, Ripken had his back. He told Benitez that the two of them could fly to the team’s destination on a different plane. It didn’t get that far as the manager eventually stepped in, but Ripken’s gesture was not lost on Benitez. A few years later, after Benitez was traded to the New York Mets, Ripken visited him during spring training in Port St. Lucie. An emotional Benitez gave Ripken a diamond ring with Ripken’s No. 8 encrusted on it.

Said Ripken: “What goes around, comes around. You’re not always going to be the star, and you’re not always going to be immune from slumps. But all of a sudden if you hit a slump, you’re going to need somebody else to be there for you.”

Ripken’s words were a home run with at least two of the Winged Foot awards finalists.

“Every word he said up there was fact,” Jensen Jones said. “You can put that into everyday life, sports life, academic life. He’s a very wise man.”

“He really (touched on) some of the things that I value like being a good teammate and playing fair,” said Tobey McDonough, a star pitcher for Gulf Coast High School who has signed to play for Brown University. “… I took a lot out of what he said. It was a great speech, and I was really honored to meet him.”

Actually, Jones already had one encounter with Ripken earlier in the day … sort of.

“It’s cool because I’m sitting here playing (the video game) ’MLB: The Show’ today,” Jones said, “and he’s my starting shortstop, and then I come in here and he’s standing 15 feet away from me. It’s super cool.”

THE OTHER FINALISTS

Sharing the stage Thursday night with Winged Foot winner Jensen Jones were 12 other graduating senior student-athletes who represented each of Collier County’s high schools.

Those 12 Winged Foot finalists, who will each receive a one-time $5,000 stipend, are: Anthony Alvarez (Lely), Mia Gallegos (Immokalee), Teagan Havemeier (Marco Island Academy), Tobey McDonough (Gulf Coast), Logan Nikolich (Seacrest Country Day), Mo Palmer (Palmetto Ridge), Gerald Roger (Golden Gate), Jayden Rolle (Barron Collier), Jett Su (Naples), Natalie Thompson (Everglades City), Nick Tompkins (First Baptist Academy) and Parker Weiss (Community School of Naples).

THE SPONSORS

Major sponsors of the banquet include Barron Collier Jr. Foundation Inc., Iberiabank, Grant Fridkin Pearson, PA, Dr. Charles Karpas, Premier Sotheby’s International Realty, The Lutgert Companies and Gallagher Lutgert Insurance.

Follow CSI on Twitter at @239CSI or like CSI on Facebook at facebook.com/CollierSportsInsider. Email Gregg Hardy at editor@colliersportsinsider.com.