By Mark Eckel, Player Engagement Insider
Donald Jones made the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted rookie out of Youngstown State University in 2010, and was a starting wide receiver for the team by his second season. And then it happened. His football career was over just as it was getting started.
Diagnosed with a kidney disease while he was in college, which was the primary reason he went undrafted, the situation had worsened.
“This was the end of the road for kidney disease,’’ Jones said. “In my third season, I went into total kidney failure. It was pretty bad. The doctors said on the right meds, maybe I could play one more year. But my body just couldn’t handle it.’’
Jones caught 82 passes for 887 yards and scored six touchdowns in his three seasons with the Bills. Who knows how much better those numbers would have been, or how much they would have increased. We’ll never know. But in 2013 there was more than football on Jones’ mind. There was the fight for his life and not leaving his then two-year-old son, without a father.
Jones is back in Buffalo these days. After writing a book, “The Next Quarter: scoring against kidney disease’’ about his climb to make it, and the struggles of battling his disease, he now co-hosts a daily radio show from Monday to Friday, from noon to 3:00 p.m. on WGR 550 and simulcast on the MSG Network.
“It was bad,’’ Jones said thinking back to 2013. “It was either get a transplant, be on dialysis, or die. The scariest part was you don’t know what’s going to happen. I have a son. He was two years old at the time. I wanted to be here for my son. I needed to make sure I was going to be here and not going to kill myself by playing football. It was hard to give it up, but I needed to get better and live my life.’’
Jones found a donor in his father Donald, and after some immediate complications following the surgery both men are doing well today.
“He’s been good. I’ve been good,’’ Jones said. “We’re very fortunate.’’
Jones’ book, which he wrote and self-published, helped him deal with the whole ordeal, but also serves as a self-help book for young players who could make some wrong decisions.
“I wanted to get my story out,’’ he said “I made some bad decisions along the way in my life and in my career, going to junior college and things like that. I think I can touch so many people.’’
Jones began the writing the book his final season in the league.
“I started writing the book when I should have been studying my playbook,’’ he said with a laugh. “I finished writing it after surgery. I sent it to an editor, and he told me to write it over. I had something there, but it needed to be more.’’
Because he wasn’t a big-name player he also found it hard to get published, so he sold his car and used the money to self-publish the book.
After the operation and recovery in 2013, Jones became an inspirational speaker, and helped several charities involved with kidney disease back in his home state of New Jersey.
Then last summer, just before the start of the 2016 NFL season, he got a call to go back to Buffalo and get involved again with the Bills. He couldn’t say no.
“I went to school for communications,’’ he said. “I always wanted to get into the media. This sounded like the perfect opportunity.’’
While the show airs year-round and talks about more than just the Bills and the NFL, that it the primary focus and this will be his second season behind the microphone.
“It’s been fun,’’ Jones said “As I said I always liked being in the media. And I used to go to Super Bowls all the time and big games like that. Now, I’m there to go to work.’’