On campus for the first day of summer school, Chris Jones walked into the UNLV football locker room.
That’s when he saw the shadow he stepped into when he signed with the Rebels in February, a reminder of what he lost seven years ago.
Above one of the lockers was a picture of his father, former star UNLV running back Kirk Jones.
“Ever since I saw that, it was a motivational drive that I need to reach where he got and go further if I can,” Chris Jones said.
Kirk Jones rushed for 2,656 yards between 1983 and 1986, ranking third on the Rebels’ career rushing list behind Mike Thomas’ 3,149 yards and Dominique Dorsey’s 2,834.
Chris Jones’ mother, the former Cheryl Cheeks, also left behind an athletic legacy at UNLV as an All-America sprinter in the 400-meter relay from 1987 to 1989.
Chris Jones, a quarterback from Shadow Ridge High School, seemed practically destined to play for the Rebels.
“I was like, ‘If I have a chance to play here, I definitely will,’ ” he said. “It was a big deal to me.”
It was a big deal to Jones’ mother that her son be prepared for more than football.
Kirk Jones was an ideal example to follow, a straight-A student who graduated from UNLV in three years, then went to graduate school.
Cheryl Jones had her own experiences to share. She received a business degree but wasn’t sure which career path to follow. She finally found it five years ago as a school district police officer.
She made sure that her son would follow a straighter line professionally. He took her advice and plans to pursue a career in architecture, even interning for a local firm this summer.
“I don’t want him to go through what I went through,” Cheryl Jones said. “To get to where I am, I went around the block and back.”
She has been there to guide him and comfort him.
Cheryl Jones, then divorced, walked into her son’s room on the morning of June 10, 2001, to break the news about Kirk Jones. He had suffered a fatal heart attack at age 36 in his Diamond Bar, Calif., home.
“In a way, it doesn’t get back to normal, but I’d have to say (it took) two or three years to be back to normal,” Chris Jones said of his father’s death. “It’s always been a thought in the back of my head, and it’s going to stay there forever.”
No doubt Jones feels the absence, and the weight of his dad’s death still haunts him at times.
“I think I’ll get over it, and then it’ll hit me again,” Jones said.
Those feelings emerged two weeks ago when he represented his dad, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame at high school power Long Beach (Calif.) Poly, where Kirk Jones starred before choosing UNLV over UCLA and Texas.
And Chris Jones provided some hint of his pain when on Jan. 8, Kirk Jones’ birthday, he visited the grave site for the first time since the funeral.
At Shadow Ridge last season, Jones passed for 1,111 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also made 63 tackles, including three sacks, as a linebacker.
Scout.com rated him the state’s No. 9 recruit.
Jones (6 feet 3 inches, 175 pounds) already has impressed UNLV coaches, and coach Mike Sanford indicated the freshman could take snaps this season rather than redshirt, even with at least two other young quarterbacks in front of him.
“We’re bringing him in with the idea of playing right away,” Sanford said.
Now that would be a good start to following what his parents accomplished at UNLV.
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914.