The great Sonny Jones remembered

This was September of 2004. Ole Miss was about to go play Wyoming in football. The better story, turns out, was at the Barnett Reservoir in the home of Walker “Sonny” Jones, a former Wyoming football star and an avid Ole Miss fan.
I went and spent a Wednesday morning with Sonny to learn how a kid from Philadelphia, Miss., became one of Wyoming’s all-time football greats, then became the father and grandfather of two Ole Miss football stars. The coffee was good, the conversation better. I wish I had a recording.
Sonny, who died Friday at the age of 88, could ever more tell a story.
Here’s part of the column:
The date was Nov. 5, 1949. Wyoming, playing on the road in Greeley, Col., led Northern Colorado 103 to 0 in the fourth quarter. Wyoming running star Walker “Sonny” Jones already had scored several touchdowns and had long since taken a seat on the sidelines.

Nearly 55 years have passed, but Sonny Jones still remembers Wyoming coach Bowden Wyatt’s words like it was last Saturday.

“Our scrubs were out there and still scoring when Wyatt yelled, `I’m warning you guys. Next one of you who scores a touchdown, I’m leaving here. You’ll have to hitchhike back to Laramie.”

Says Jones, laughing, “He meant it, too.”

Apparently, Bowden Wyatt got his point across. Final score: Wyoming 103, Northern Colorado 0.

Says Jones, “I think we could have scored 200.”

Here’s more:

Sonny Jones played against Ole Miss as a tailback at Mississippi State in 1946 and 1947. After transferring to Wyoming, he scored 22 touchdowns for the Cowboys over the 1948 and 1949 seasons.

And that’s not nearly all.

Bill Jones, Sonny’s son, was a standout defensive back for Johnny Vaught at Ole Miss. Walker Jones, Sonny’s grandson and Bill’s son, was an outstanding linebacker for the Rebels in the mid-’90s. . . Sonny is Walker W. Jones II. Bill is Walker W. Jones III. And Walker is Walker W. Jones IV.
Sonny Jones grew up in Philadelphia, where he starred in football and track, before signing to play football for the legendary Allyn McKeen at Mississippi State. Bowden Wyatt, McKeen’s top assistant at the time, recruited Jones. 

Jones played as a freshman in 1942 but then entered the U.S. Air Force and flew B-17 bombers until World War II ended. He returned to State in 1946 and 1947 and shared tailback duties with the great Shorty McWilliams, Spook Murphy and Eagle Mautlich. State won 15 and lost only five those two seasons.

But then Wyatt, the coach who had recruited Jones to State, took the head coach’s job at Wyoming. Wyatt needed a tailback to run his single wing attack and he called Jones. Meanwhile, McKeen was dismissed at State. Sonny Jones weighed the pros and cons. At State, he was part of a tailback team. At Wyoming, he would be the guy. At State, he would play for a new coach. At Wyoming, he would play for a man he knew, liked and respected.

So, he got on a train and went to Wyoming. . .

. . .Wyoming won nine games and lost one in 1949. Jones scored 13 touchdowns. He still holds Wyoming records for the longest kickoff return (100 yards) and punt return (89 yards).

Sonny Jones also starred in track, once running a 9.8-second 100-yard dash when the world record was 9.4.

On his office wall at his home on the shores of the Barnett Reservoir, Sonny Jones has the contract George Halas sent him from the Chicago Bears. Halas’s signature is on it; Jones’ is not. The contract called for $4,100. Jones figured he better get a real job.

He coached championship high school teams in Indianola before starting his own successful business – Walker Jones Equipment Co. He sold that and retired in 1982.

Says grandson Walker, “My granddad always says he sold the business before his grandchildren had a chance to run it in the ground.”

In retirement, Sonny Jones watched every practice and every game of Walker’s high school career and all 45 games of his Ole Miss career.

Sonny Jones may be a Wyoming grad, but he is an Ole Miss fan, and he picks the Rebels to win Saturday.

“Ole Miss has more depth and more speed, but that altitude is tough,” Sonny Jones says. ” I told Walker they better pack a lot of extra oxygen. It took me a while to get used to that thin air. Ole Miss won’t have any time to prepare for it.”

Turns out, Sonny Jones was a much better player than prognosticator. Wyoming wore Ole Miss out. Turns out, my visit with Sonny was much more memorable than that football game.
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Services for Sonny Jones will be Tuesday, Sept 4th at St. Phillips on Old Canton in Jackson. Visitation is 9:30 a.m. followed by the funeral at 11.

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