“He loved living, and it made an impact sadly in a short 30 years.”
These are the words of head Hillsdale College football coach Keith Otterbein about the late Ben Jones ’13, who recently passed away in a car accident on Aug. 19. His love for life will forever impact his family, friends, and team.
Jones entered Hillsdale as a freshman in 2009, where he went on to major in finance with a minor in math, serve on the Student Athletes Advisor Council, and play tight end and H‑back for the Chargers until December 2013.
“He had an inner self-confidence that you could tell right away when talking to him. He was very positive,” Otter said, “He encouraged his teammates, personally worked very hard at getting better, and tried to find a way to help our football team, and was very unselfish.”
During his time at Hillsdale, Jones was social, well-known across campus, and always had a positive attitude that motivated the people around him.
“He has some of the best friends I’ve ever seen,” said Ben’s brother, Nate Jones, a senior playing for the Chargers. “Ben knew a lot of people, and was connected with a lot of people. Everybody was a somebody to Ben. And Ben was somebody to everyone else.”
A story told by many of Jones’ friends since his passing recounts a significant moment in his football career while on the Charger football team.
“We were up pretty good in a game, and he scored a touchdown, and our guys went berserk,” Otterbein said. “There was a big celebration for a touchdown to expand a lead that we already had.”
Jones’ passion for the game extended beyond his time at Hillsdale College. He went on to coach football at Cranbook, a private college preparatory school in Bloomingfield Hills, Michigan.
“He worked 9‑to‑5 to pay the bills, but his real passion was being a football coach and molding young men into better men,” Nate said. “He loved sharing a game that meant so much to him with other people, so they could find the same joy that he did, enabling those young men to find their passions.”
Although football was his passion and a major component of his life, Jones was also passionate about his faith and family. His sister, Alissa Jones, ’16, who was a swimmer while a student at Hillsdale, said his three focuses in life were the “three F’s”: faith, family, and football.
“Ben was passionate about his family, from his cousins, to his godson and goddaughter, to his grandparents,” Nate said. “He tried to come to as many football games of mine as possible.”
Nate said he saw Ben as a “role model, leader, and hero,” and even in moments of criticism, he always knew it was because his brother believed he could achieve anything even if he didn’t recognize it himself.
“He wanted the best for me at all times,” Nate said. “He was instrumental in providing that leadership and guidance in problems that he went through and learned from and passed it on to me. He was my best friend.”
A specific motto of Ben’s was “get to…” His outlook on life was not that he “had to” do anything, but that he had the opportunity and chance to “get to” do something special.
“He would say we ‘get to’ at family functions,” Alissa said. “Whether it was cleaning the house, or forced family fun, he would say we don’t have to, we get to hang out together, we get to go on a five-hour drive together. In all of the monotonous or annoying moments, he always found a positive.”
Jones took this same attitude into his football career and coaching, reminding his teammates and players that they “get to” have the opportunity to play football.
“One of his things was, we ‘get to’ play college football. We ‘get to’ go to Hillsdale College,” Otterbein said. “The reminder of that is something that we are going to enshrine in some sort of placard as our players go on the field every day, that Ben Jones reminds them that they ‘get to’ do this. They don’t have to. It’s an honor and privilege.”
In remembrance of the legacy of Ben Jones and his positive attitude, Nate and those at the college are developing a Ben Jones memorial scholarship fund to award a football player who demonstrates the same quality and passion that Jones brought on the field.
“Work ethic is something that we think is important to pursue whatever you’re doing with great passion and enthusiasm,” Otterbein said. “At all phases in Ben’s life, as a coach, son, friend, brother, in all aspects, he embraced every day, every opportunity, and had a big impact.”