Olympic Gold Medalist and former NFL 1st Round Draft Pick Johnny “Lam” Jones passes away from cancer

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Of the 50-plus interviews I did with former NFL players for my book High School Football in Texas: Amazing Football Stories from the Greatest Players of Texas, my conversation with Johnny “Lam” Jones is one that stands out. Not because of all of the stories he told me, but more because he wasn’t braggadocious.

On Friday, Jones, who won an Olympic gold medal as a teenager and then became an NFL first round draft pick, passed away after his long battle with cancer.

Not once during our hour-long chat did Jones, who was inducted into the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame in 2008, brag about his athletic talents. He always talked about the team, as you can see from his quote above.

To honor him, you can read the excerpt on him from my book.

RIP, Johnny.

Johnny Jones, the kid who won an Olympic gold medal at the age of seventeen in the Montreal Summer Olympics, is a Texas legend. In a day-and-age long before the NFL Combine, Jones had straight-line speed that was compared to lightning. From media reports in the late ’70s, it was said that Jones once ran a 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds, but Jones said his best time was 4.23 seconds. To put that in perspective, John Ross of the Cincinnati Bengals set the NFL combine record in 2017 with a time of 4.22 seconds. No matter what the era, the young man from Lampasas could flat-out run.

            Johnny Wesley Jones was born on April 4, 1958, in Lawton, Oklahoma, and began playing football in the third grade. He would spend his summers with his grandparents in Lampasas, Texas, before moving there permanently with them in the seventh grade. Lampasas is a small town of about 6,000 people that is pretty much right in the center of the Lone Star State.

            “I really enjoyed playing football in Lawton,” said Jones. “We had a some really good players. Vaughn Lusby was a couple years older than me and he was really good. He played cornerback at Arkansas where he was an All-American. Our team in Oklahoma won the Pop Warner championship three years in a row.”

            Jones said that he’s always been a team player in any sport that he played. He said because of that, he doesn’t recall a lot of individual stuff during his time on the football field.

            “I’ve always been shy,” Jones said. “The best part of sports is coming together with your teammates and coaches to achieve something special.”

            Jones said he got a few starts as a sophomore on Lampasas’ varsity squad that went 3–7 in District 12-AAA in 1973. While Jones may not remember a lot of individual moments, a review of newspapers from the 1974 and 1975 season, shows some of his outstanding moments.

            After being knocked out of the first game in the first quarter in 1974, Jones bounced back with an outstanding effort against Fredericksburg. The speedy back, operating out of the wishbone formation, carried the ball nine times for 197 yards and four touchdowns. For those of you without a calculator, that’s an average of 21.9 yards per carry.

            He put up a similar performance against Llano High when he carried the ball only twelve times for 154 yards and four touchdowns. For the season, Jones ran for 1,330 yards and averaged 11.6 yards per carry, which landed him a spot on the second team of the Class AAA All-State squad which was chosen by the Texas Sports Writers Association. Jones scored 159 points for the year.

            The numbers kept growing during Jones’s senior season. In a game against Gainesville, he shredded the defense for 257 yards and four touchdowns. Jones had an outstanding senior season, finishing his career with 45 touchdowns and a spot on the first team of the Texas Sports Writers Association’s All-State football team.

            Jones was inducted into the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame in 2008

{D} After High School

Before heading to the University of Texas, Jones headed north of the border to participate in the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, Canada. Jones replaced Houston McTear, who was injured and couldn’t participate. As a seventeen year old, Jones finished sixth in the 100-meters and then won a gold medal running the second leg of the 4×100-meter relay.

            As a member of the Texas Longhorns football team, Johnny picked up his nickname “Lam.” On that same team was another Johnny Jones, which led head coach Fred Akers to name them after their hometowns. Akers decided on Johnny “Lam” Jones from Lampasas, and Johnny “Ham” Jones from Hamlin. Johnny Lam’s college career began as a running back before he was moved to wide receiver. He averaged 28 catches per year, but averaged over 18.9 yards per grab.

            Jones’s speed was a huge attraction to NFL teams, which led to him being selected as the No. 2 overall pick in the 1980 NFL Draft by the New York Jets. He signed a $2.1 million contract, which was the largest ever for a wide receiver at that time.

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About the Author

Jeff Fisher
Jeff is an award-winning journalist and expert in the field of high school sports, underscored with his appearance on CNBC in 2010 to talk about the big business of high school football in America. Jeff turned to his passion for high school football into an entrepreneurial venture called High School Football America, a digital media company focused on producing original high school sports content for radio, television and the internet. Jeff is co-founder and editor-in-chief of High School Football America, which is a media partner with USA TODAY High School Sports.