Jones recently spoke about his experience through sports and the Hillsborough Education Foundation’s mentorship program.
Last month, Plant City High School student-athlete Romello Jones stood on stage at the Hillsborough Education Foundation’s annual EmpowerED Luncheon and told his story.
The story he told was one of success, of growing through hard work and dedication as a room full of Hillsborough Education Foundation supporters looked on, a room that included City of Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent Addison Davis and Hillsborough Education Foundation CEO Kim Jowell, among others.
Hillsborough Education Foundation is a non-profit organization aimed at strengthening public education in Hillsborough County through advocacy, investment of resources and programs that empower every student to achieve both academic and personal success.
“It’s helped me tremendously,” Jones said. “I can’t even describe how much my mentor, Tracy Smith, has helped me. Just giving me knowledge and soaking up what he experienced through high school and college, things that he probably didn’t know until later in life but he gave me at a very young age so that I could use it, take advantage of it and be ahead of the game through high school and heading into college.”
Jones first joined HEF’s Take Stock in Children mentoring program in seventh grade where he was introduced to Smith, a mentor with the program who spent 20 years with the Department of Defense before spending another 12 years with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In addition to his professional experience, Smith has earned a bachelor’s degree in information systems management, a master’s degree in business, management and marketing and later a PhD in Philosophy.
Smith said that one of his biggest points of emphasis with his mentees was having a Plan B outside of athletics, showing how successful you can be through an education, something that no one can take away from you.
“I’ve been blessed but I’ve worked hard… I try to show that you can work hard and get an education and make a good life for yourself,” Smith said. “If you can make it in the NFL, that’s great. If you can make it as an entertainer, if that’s what you aspire to do, that’s great, but you should always have a fallback plan and your fallback plan can give you a great life even if that’s not originally what you wanted to do. I’ve seen him grow and evolve in terms of recognizing what’s important. And I can’t take all the credit because his mom is wonderful, he has a great family support system and they’re fantastic but sometimes when you’re a kid, hearing it from your own family doesn’t have the same significance as hearing it from someone else. So to have a mentor… he’s seeing that this is a roadmap or a blueprint for how you can get to where you want to be in life, to have a nice comfortable life and to be successful. Sometimes it just helps to hear it from a different source.”
Now over five years later, Jones is a three-sport athlete at Plant City, playing football, basketball and running track. This season Jones has totaled 95 rushing yards, 62 receiving yards, one offensive touchdown and was recently named the Player of the Game against Chamberlain after racking up a blocked punt, a touchdown reception and an interception against the Chiefs.
“Romello is just a high academic, high character kid who represents our program to the highest level,” Plant City football head coach James Booth said. “He’s definitely a kid that, when he graduates, you just wish you had coming back.”
Off the field, Jones is a member of the National Honor Society. He remarked how academic achievements can even help him as an athlete looking to play at the college level, helping to set himself apart from other football players who may be similarly talented.
And as his senior season has progressed, so has his list of scholarship offers. Looking to become the first member of his family to pursue an undergraduate degree, Jones has received around 10 scholarship offers ranging from prestigious universities such as Lehigh, service academies such as Army and Navy and even Dartmouth, an Ivy League University.
“It means the world to me,” Jones said about having the opportunity to pursue a college degree. “Honestly I’ve beyond glad because I want to set the path and set the blocks up for the people after me, the family, the next generation after me so they know that it’s possible and it is doable no matter what.”