By CHRIS LARICK
For the Star Beacon
Ed Jones will forever be indebted to Eugene Miller and Charles Moore for his opportunity to play Division I college football.
But Jones was a Harbor Mariner, Jones and Moore Ashtabula Panthers.
During his senior year at Harbor, Jones, who will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Touchdown Club Hall of Fame Dec. 9 at Our Lady of Peace (formerly, Mount Carmel), wasn’t being recruited by anyone.
“They thought I was too slow,” Jones said. “But I was a tackle and ran a 4.9 (in the 40-yard dash) at 230 pounds.”
But Dave Perala from the University of Cincinnati was very interested in Miller and Moore.
“He wanted to see Miller and Moore against the best competition,” Jones said. “We took Eugene completely off the screen. (Perala) saw me in Buddy Candela’s office (the Harbor principal’s office) and watched film on me. Eugene Miller is the reason I got a scholarship.”
Jones, whose real first name is Edgele (after his father; his son shares the name, as well), began his football career at Columbus Junior High as a lineman.
“I always thought I was a quarterback, but they had a rule that if you were over 140 pounds you had to go to the line,” Jones said. “My senior year in high school, I was 6-foot-1, 190 pounds. My freshman year at Cincinnati, I was 6-3, 230. Right after (my senior) basketball season, I had a growth spurt.”
Though the Mariners would develop an excellent team, Jones’ class was not a good one from the beginning.
“In the seventh and eighth grade, we were not any good,” he said. “My freshman year, we tied the first game then lost he next six. We won a couple games as JVs, but when I was a junior, we went 9-1, then 10-0 as a senior.”
Gary Lillvis, already in the ACTC Hall of Fame, was the star lineman of that team, according to Jones, along with Dante Monda. In the backfield, the Mariners started Dave Peet at quarterback and former major-league shortstop Mark Wagner at wide receiver. Andy Campbell and Tim Sedmak were other offensive stars. Jim Bollman, another ACTC Hall of Famer, was at tight end. Herbie Osborne, another teammate “might have been the toughest guy of all.”
Several of the same players starred for Harbor in basketball — Peet, Wagner, Bollman and Jones — along with John Coleman and Larry Conley.
“We were two-sport people back in those days,” Jones said.
“Basketball was my favorite sport,” Jones said. “It really helped me in football, those agility drills. Larry Bragga was the best coach I ever had. He coached us until our senior year. Ron Chutas was a basketball and football coach, a good guy, too.
“I was a forward. I was the only starter who didn’t average double figures and I scored 9.9 or so.”
Though Jones didn’t run track, he was fast enough. In drills, he ran a 2:14 880 at 250 pounds.
“I wasn’t even training for it, but I always had good endurance,” he said.
One of the football games he remembers from high school was his junior year, when the Mariners played St. John.
The Heralds had already clinched a tie for the NEC championship and had “NEC Champs” painted on their helmets. The motivated Harbor team ran out of the locker room so fast they got bottled up at the door.
“We were wild to get at them,” Jones said. “We won, 56-3, and tied for the NEC championship.”
After the football season, Jones was selected to the All-City, All-County and All-Northeastern Conference all-star teams.
He accepted the football scholarship offer from Cincinnati and headed there in late summer, 1972.
“It was the first year of freshman eligibility,” he said. “It was a tremendous adjustment. I was 17 years old and thrown into competition with guys coming back from the Vietnam War and guys from places like St. Ignatius, Cincinnati Elder and Cincinnati Moeller. A lot of guys were leaving. They were scared.
“The first day I was on campus, the first person I saw was (former NBA great) Oscar Robertson. I saw Ron Blackledge (later an NFL coach and the father of Todd Blackledge, later an NFL quarterback and a college football commentator now). They were going to put us in a hotel, but my father said, ‘Sign the piece of paper. We’re going here.
“My dad was named Edgele and gave me the name Edgele. It made me tough. My father was a tremendous man, a very powerful man.”
That freshman year, Jones made the traveling team.
“I was scared to death, but I found out I was just as tough as anyone else,” he said. “I got to play in the Astrodome and in the Liberty Bowl. I started halfway through my sophomore year. I got to travel around the country, to places like the University of Houston. Rice, Memphis State and Temple and against guys like Joe Klecko. My buddies in college are still my buddies.”
The Bearcats went 4-7 his sophomore year, 7-4 his junior season and 6-5 when he was a senior.
“My sophomore year, we lost seven games by a total of 29 points,” he said. “Those games were heartbreakers every week.”
In 1975, Jones was selected to play in the Ohio Shrine Bowl and was voted most outstanding lineman.
He was drafted in the 13th or 14th round by the San Diego Chargers.
“I would have been better off being a free agent, would have had a better opportunity to sign with somebody who needed me,” he said.
After three weeks, the Chargers sent Jones home.
Jones also had an opportunity to play with Calgary in the Canadian Football League, but he had, against his father’s advice, signed with an agent (a mistake, he now admits) and the Rough Riders quickly cut off negotiations and retracted their offer.
He had majored in business administration at the University of Cincinnati, but had been told he would be excellent in the beer business.
“I’m a professional talker,” he said. “They said I speak well and athletes do well in the beer business.
“I was going to go back to Cincinnati, but I came to Norfolk (Va.) to stay with my sister and look for a job opportunity.”
He wound up working for a warehouse for a little firm. At the time, he was playing softball and was eventually approached by someone in the beer industry.
He accepted a job as a route salesman for Schlitz and spent 12 years there, while moving up to on-premises sales manager. Then Budweiser recruited him.
“If you can sell Schlitz and make a living at it, you can sell anything,” he said. “Schlitz did some things I didn’t like. Bud interviewed me.
“I was aggressive, well-liked and hard-working, but they asked some of their people about me. ‘Not one person had anything good to say about you,’ the boss said. I consider that a compliment.”
Needless to say, Jones was hired.
“It’s easy to sell Bud,” he said. “You have so much backing.”
Jones worked there for 13 years, before getting an offer to buy into a business in 2001.
That business was called the Harbor Inn in the Tidewater area of Virginia, including Norfolk and Virginia Beach.
“I called it Karma,” said Jones of the name Harbor Inn.
He bought half of the business in 2001 and the rest later.
“It’s a hard business,” he said. “The big thing is making sure everyone is 21 years old. We do really well. I’m a well-known person in Tidewater.”
Jones married his high school sweetheart, Sherry (Foust) in 1975. Former Ashtabula County Sheriff William Johnston is her brother-in-law. They have been married 38 years and have two children, Edgele the third (Duke), 36, and Gina, 35.
Larick, a retired Star Beacon sports writer, is a freelance writer from Geneva.