By PAT EATON-ROBB, Associated Press
STORRS, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut cornerback Byron Jones is expected to be a leader for the Huskies on the football field this season, but spent his summer learning what it might take to become one off of it.
While teammates were working on their game or their tans, the 6-foot-1 junior from New Britain worked during his off months at the state Capitol in Hartford and the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C., serving as an intern for both Connecticut’s House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz and U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty.
“It was an eye opening experience,” said Jones, who is majoring in economics, but is also taking political science courses at UConn. “I went to hearings, briefings, took notes on behalf of the congresswoman. I gave tours of the U.S. Capitol.
“It was fascinating.”
Jones said he became interested in government through conversations with Rep. Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, who had been his AAU basketball coach. When the House leader asked if he would like to get a firsthand look at how the legislature works, Jones jumped at the chance.
He spent his spring break and the first few weeks of this summer in the Aresimonwicz office, shadowing staffers, attending public hearings and taking notes at meetings.
“He has this incredible work ethic,” Aresimowicz said. “He also has this grasp of how to get people to work together, that was on display almost immediately. He was giving some pretty sound advice to some of us who have been doing this for quite a while.”
When Jones expressed an interest in going to Washington, Aresimowicz sent his resume on to Esty, whose district includes Jones’ hometown.
The congresswoman said she was immediately impressed, enough to put him at the front desk in her Capitol office, where he greeted visitors ranging from members of the general public to Washington dignitaries.
“He has real presence and maturity and a combination of good humor and a calming presence, which is very important in a congressional office,” Esty said. “He managed things with maturity and grace, and I was very impressed with his knowledge, intelligence and his people skills.”
Esty said she trusted Jones enough that when a delegation from Newtown came to Washington to push for gun control legislation, it was Jones who became their Capitol escort.
“That was an honor,” Jones said. “I got to go with them to a news conference and to see Congresswoman Esty speak about the issue on the floor. It was pretty cool just to be in the same room with people like Nancy Pelosi, and Chris Murphy.”
UConn defensive coordinator Hank Hughes said Jones has shown those same leadership traits on the football field, where he moved in the offseason from safety to cornerback after Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson graduated to the NFL.
“From the time he arrived here until now, he’s a guy who has a lot of class, a lot of poise, a lot of character,” Hughes said. “He’s a sharp guy, a quick learner and a tremendous athlete. He’ll go to the NFL combine and he’ll put up long jump numbers that will rival anyone in the country.
“Byron is mature off the field and on the field.”
Aresimonwicz said he asked Jones if he aspires to be the Huskies defensive captain, and was impressed by his answer.
“He told me that you don’t need a title to be a leader,” he said.
Esty said she expects Jones will lead in whatever field he chooses to pursue. She said what may be just as important is that he already is a role model in a time where many football players are making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
“I think people need to understand that when it comes to athletes, it’s unfair to paint with a broad brush and condemn all of them,” she said. “Indeed, we do have exceptional young people who are student athletes.
“And they need to be celebrated.”
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