OTTAWA, Ill. – After crossing the goal line for the first time Saturday afternoon, Fulton senior Jacob Jones felt some of the weight of the week hit him while he was running back to the sideline.

“The first touchdown, it was weird,” Jones said. Jones is one of the stat-leading runningbacks on the No. 4 Fulton football team’s roster. “I was running back to the sideline and Coach [Patrick] Lower was saying I know he helped you out on that play, and that he would have loved to see that. That’s when it – it was just crazy. It’s something you never think could happen and it’s hard to accept when it does.”

Jones lost his father Thursday – just two days before the Steamers took the field against Ottawa Marquette for the second round of the Class 1A playoffs.

Larry Jones was heavily involved with Fulton High School, acting as a coach in multiple sports, including football. The loss wasn’t easy for anyone in Steamer Nation.

“He’s been a coach for us in every sport since we were little,” Jacob Jones recalled about his father. “He thought of everyone as his sons. All the guys on the team knew they could use him for anything they needed, they could fall back on him.”

It was especially weird as senior headed into the playoff game on Saturday. He was used to his dad being a constant presence as he prepped for football the last few years.

“He loves football,” Jones said. “My favorite sport is baseball, I’m not afraid to admit that. He pushed football for me. He was there every Thursday, every walk through, pasta dinners. It was weird just not having him there.”

But because of his father’s love of the game, it never even crossed Jacob Jones’ mind to not take the field with the team on Saturday.

Hand-in-hand, he walked to the field with his teammates. At the end of the game, he found the embraces of teammates and coaches. What he was greeted with was a physical sign of the community’s support of him and his family.

Along with the initials “LJ” on the Steamer helmets and many player’s equipment, the bleachers filled with the same even though it was a road game.

“When we joined hands and ran onto the field before the game started, we ran out and everyone had these red shirts that had “LJ” on them and it was crazy,” Jones said. “Half our stands had LJ on it. We had to drive two hours but we had close to more fans there with LJ on than they had.

“People always say they have your back, but Fulton has it. They don’t say it, they do it. It’s the doing that makes the difference.”

The family mentality has always been a big deal in Fulton football and the situation that manifested in the last week for Jacob Jones has proven why that’ so important.

Coming out on the field Saturday, Fulton took a 27-0 lead before allowing Marquette to score and only allowed one touchdown each half. Jones found the endzone just eight minutes into the game, spinning out of four different tackles to do it.

He would find the endzone twice more before the end of the game.

“My dad pushed me to do my best whether it was weight room or practice,” Jones said. “He was never a mad dad, but he did the dad things. He always pushed me to do the best that I could. I just enjoy playing for him, for my parents, for myself. I always hope my parents are proud of me for what I do and I just hope he stays proud.”

Plenty of Steamer parents, teammates and fans expressed that they were proud of Jones for his dad after the win on Saturday afternoon. Social media posts flooded timelines with words on encouragement and respect, along with photos and the initials “LJ”.

It’s something that has been imperative for the Fulton teen the last five days.

“We’re a tight-knit community and I love my whole team,” Jones said. “It would be a lot harder situation right now if I didn’t have all these people here with me.”

“I appreciate everyone that’s been out there for me. It would be a much worse situation if I didn’t have people to rely on. Even going to practice instead of sitting in my room dwelling is much better. I’m not putting myself in a bad place. I’ve been able to surround myself with my friends and enjoy my time a little more and not worry about stuff.

They’ll take on top-ranked Lena-Winslow on Saturday. Fulton (9-1) played Le-Win earlier this year, losing 54-7.

And although the athlete in Jacob Jones was never going out on the field without giving it his all, every Fulton Steamer moment from here on out holds a little more meaning for him now.

“It’s always important – I want to go out there and I want to play with my team,” Jones said. “I also want to keep winning and have him enjoy it the best he can. I hope he’s watching ... I know he is. I want to keep winning for him. I wish he could see it, but I think he’s watching anyway.”

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