VAN ALSTYNE — Former Van Alstyne Panther William Jones is making big strides in his time at the Air Force Academy. He is able to play Division I baseball while also taking advantage of the opportunities the academy has presented to him.

Jones had an up and down year during the 2017 spring season at the academy — throwing two scoreless innings, striking out four in seven innings pitched, and making his collegiate debut against Louisiana State University. However, he finished the year with a 12.86 ERA and unfortunately developed a season ending injury in his shoulder that kept him benched through the 2018 season.

“I think I just wasn’t prepared for the college workload on my arm,” Jones said. “I played in the fall, spring, then summer, and I think I just overthrew with it… it was bugging me nonstop, so I finally went and got a MRI. Turned out it was a bone pinching a tendon in my shoulder.”

Jones was given a two options: either change the way he throws or end his career.

“I could either drop my arm-slot, like I am now,” Jones explained. “Or, I could have surgery. But, if I had surgery there would have been so much scar tissue that I would be experiencing the same level discomfort — if not worse — than I already am.”

Even though Jones has a real love for baseball, he was at peace with the idea of having to hang up the cleats.

“My teammates and the program are what made me decide to keep at it (baseball),” Jones said. “But, I was fine with calling it a career… I already had plans to branch out and try some new things at the Academy.”

Despite both Jones’ dad and grandfather once attending the academy, they were not Jones’ motivation for going.

“Theres a lot of guys here that had family members once come here, so thats why they are here, but I was never that guy,” Jones said. “I had not interest in coming here at first, and my dad never pushed me to join the military and I never thought I would. But the baseball coach (Mike Kazlausky) called me, and I went up there for a visit and it just kind of opened my eyes to all the opportunities that were there.”

Jones has, as of recently, taken on the challenge of becoming a pilot, going through all the steps and processes needed to be accepted into the program. This was something Jones hadn’t given much mind, having most of his time taken up by baseball. This has given Jones a new burst of motivation, with him having laser focus on his goal of one day manning the sky’s, whether commercially, privately, or through the military.

“If you look at the percentages of kids that play college sports, which is a minuscule amount, then you look at the amount of people that make it professionally in those sports, that numbers even lower,” Jones said, “so I definitely think people should be realistic with themselves about their sports. Not saying you shouldn’t play, because you absolutely should, but you should also be thinking that you probably aren’t going to be signing a multi-million dollar contract. And should take steps while you are at college, to set yourself up for possible success in the future without the sport… work hard at your sport and you should still be passionate about it, but take advantage of the school around you and don’t just focus solely on the sport.”

With college sports being the job that they are, it is common that many student athletes focus mostly on the sport they are in. Taking a potentially fruitless major, simply because it is simpler, or not trying anything outside of their comfort zone, afraid that it will interfere with their sport.

‘When I was first looking at schools, all I could think about is how awesome it will be to be walking around as a baseball player,” Jones said. “But after being here and doing the things I am doing, I realized there is so much more out there to do and for you to become… I took a leap of faith and just took a shot at something and now I’m running a survival school here and in three weeks I’m going to North Carolina to stay on an Air Force base and fly jets. I’m not simply a baseball player.”

The advice Jones gives is strong. Take advantage of the opportunities presented to you through your athletics. College athletics should be a doorway to life changing opportunities, not an obstacle keeping you from them.