Dameon Jones was sitting in a dark movie theater Saturday night watching “Jason Bourne” when he looked down at his cell phone and realized he had several missed calls from a phone number he didn’t recognize.
Hallandale High’s former football coach, who was planning to take a year off from the coaching grind to unwind and go in person to watch his former players in college, finally decided to return the call once the movie was over near midnight.
The mysterious caller turned out to be Chaminade-Madonna athletic director and boys’ basketball coach Andre Torres, who was desperately trying to find a new football coach after Jason Milgrom surprisingly stepped down 24 hours before the start of fall camp.
After some convincing, Jones, 36, agreed to take on the job and has helped keep a talented, state championship-contending roster from coming apart at the seams.
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“Originally, I didn’t think it was legit,” said Jones, who led Hallandale to the Class 5A state quarterfinals last season behind star quarterback and Florida Gatorade Player of the Year Tyler Huntley, now a freshman at Utah.
“Coach Torres had to repeat himself two or three times,” Jones continued. “He probably thought I was slow. I told people all the time last year if I ever coached again it would be in college or at a private institution. So I took it.”
It’s a good thing Jones did or the Lions would have looked a lot different this week at practice.
Ranked 44th nationally on the list of Early Contenders by MaxPreps.com in June, three of Chaminade’s top football talents said Wednesday they would be at other Broward programs right now if Jones hadn’t agreed to take the job.
Xavier Williams, a 6-foot, 180-pound five-star 2018 recruit and two-way playmaker for the Lions, said he and quarterback Henry Colombi — last year’s Class 3A state player of the year and a Utah State commitment — were planning on going to defending Class 8A state champion Flanagan.
Star running back Shaun Shivers, who ran for 1,219 yards and 19 touchdowns last season, said he and defensive tackle Steve Jean-Baptiste were planning to go to St. Thomas Aquinas, the nation’s top-ranked team and defending Class 7A state champion.
But shortly after Jones formally accepted the job on Sunday morning and scrambled to set up a meeting with players, coaches and parents a few hours later on campus, all but one player — senior defensive end Brandon Mincey, who left for American Heritage — decided to stay.
Williams said Jones’ rèsumè — a 21-4 record over the past two seasons at Hallandale — and the fact that his former players vouched for him, played an important role in keeping the Lions together.
“Coach just kept saying in that meeting, give me a chance,” Shivers said. “Then, Tyler Huntley, [Josh Hammonds], all of them hit me up and told me, ‘Don’t leave. Give him a chance.’
“We’re comfortable with it. He was winning at Hallandale. They almost beat St. Thomas last year, fell short at the last minute. He’s a good coach. He knows what he’s doing.”
Jones, though, still isn’t comfortable tying names to faces.
He said the only thing he knew about Chaminade before Sunday “was they had a pretty good running back — and I didn’t even know his name.”
He’s been taking home game film since Monday and spending hours trying to familiarize himself with Class 3A football, which he said he knows nothing about.
As for his staff, Jones has retained most of the Lions coaches and brought over two former assistants at Hallandale, including his offensive coordinator.
On Wednesday before practice, Jones reminded his players to be patient with him and not to take it personal if he doesn’t know their names yet. “I don’t even know some of the coaches,” Jones told them, laughing.
“I’m pretty sure he knows my name,” said Colombi, who threw for 3,409 yards and 34 touchdowns last season at University School before transferring to Chaminade along with star receiver Joshua Ali in January.
“I love Coach Jones. I saw what he did with Tyler Huntley, and I’m excited. I know he’s going to make me a better quarterback.”
Shivers said Chaminade’s players still have no idea why Milgrom, a former longtime offensive coordinator at St. Thomas Aquinas, stepped down after one 7-3 season at the helm. But at this point the team has moved on.
While MaxPreps.com has dropped the Lions out of its latest Top 50 rankings following Milgrom’s departure, players say they still believe Chaminade, which won state titles under Mark Guandolo in 2003 and 2005, is very much a contender again.
The Lions will play at Deerfield Beach on Aug. 20 in a kickoff classic and then open the season at home Sept. 2 against North Miami Beach.
“At this point I’m not interested in going to college,” Jones said. “This is my college. I want to be the next George Smith. This is a good place. I’m happy.”