More than three months ago, the FIU Panthers waited nervously at their football facility for news about their two teammates. Anthony Jones and Mershawn Miller were both victims in a drive-by shooting and after the team flooded Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, the players retreated back to campus while Butch Davis waited behind.
It really might be a miracle Jones is even alive — “It’s truly a blessing by God,” Davis said Friday in the Bahamas — but, as Davis tells the story now, it doesn’t seem like Jones was really too worried about getting shot in his back.
“The rest of the team was waiting in the team meeting room and I saw them, I said, ‘Hey, Anthony was sitting up and crazy Anthony down there’s like, I let the team down.’” Davis recalled at his postgame press conference following the Panthers’ 35-32 win against the Toledo Rockets in the Bahamas Bowl. “It’s like, C’mon Anthony, man, you didn’t let the team down at all.”
If Jones still felt that way for some reason, Friday may have laid to rest any lingering feelings. The Central alumnus, playing in his fifth game since the shooting, had one of the best games of his career to help FIU (9-4, 6-2 Conference USA) set a program record with nine wins. The halfback ran 15 times for 92 yards and a career-high three touchdowns, including a 35-yarder with 41 seconds left to effectively seal the win against Toledo (7-6, 5-3 Mid-American) at Thomas Robinson Stadium.
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“I want to thank my brothers, man, and this head coach that I’ve got in Coach Butch Davis,” Jones said at the postgame press conference in Nassau. “Through everything that I went through, my coaches, my brothers, this whole university, man, they was behind me.”
While still serious, Miller’s injury wasn’t quite like Jones’. The tailback bears a scar on the back right of his neck now from the Opa-locka shooting. Had the bullet landed an inch or so in either direction, Jones might not have survived.
Two days after the shooting, the Panthers won a road game against the Old Dominion Monarchs, then returned to the hospital with the game ball, signed by Jones’ teammates. By then, Jones’ teammates knew he would return to the field one day.
“I really, truly, honestly believe,” Davis said, “that is kind of the glue that held our football team together the entire season.”