Long before Corey Jones was traveling across the nation, and even abroad, to pursue his rugby dreams, the University of Arkansas club player was just another cog in the college football machine.
As an aspiring freshman walk-on for the Razorbacks, Jones found himself searching for a way to keep his physical edge during the long summer months and hopefully impress his coaches by the start of the fall season. When rugby training was recommended by two close friends on the school's club team, Jones decided to give it a shot.
They told Jones to go see Dr. Julie McCoy, the renowned former US women's 7s national team player and coach, who works as the head coach at the nearby American Pro Rugby Training Center (APRTC). If anyone in the area could give Jones a proper introduction to the game, it would be McCoy.
"Since I was originally from North Little Rock I thought, 'Why not?'" Jones said.
While Jones initially went back to football after that summer, he soon couldn't shake the thought of playing rugby and eventually went all-in with the sport. Little did Jones know that his decision would lead him everywhere from Fayatteville, AR, to Tobago to Bermuda to Cork, Ireland, as he pursued playing opportunities with the Atlantis 7s team, the Arkansas Stormers, the USA South Panthers, Connecticut Bulldogs, and the APRTC team.
On April 1, Jones helped lead Arkansas' club squad to a 70-0 win over the University of Texas and a fifth-place overall finish in the Red River Collegiate Championships at the Austin Huns' field in Austin, Texas. While the senior outside center and fullback is now nearing graduation and has ambitions to become a sixth-grade teacher, he also wants to keep progressing his rugby career.
Photograph from CoreyJonesRugby.com
In the past several years, Jones has been to two of Waisale Serevi's resident camps, which aim at finding and developing players for the US national teams. As Jones finished in the top three of his first camp in Minnesota, the World Rugby Hall of Famer and Fijian legend himself gave Jones the nickname "Oz," remarking on his footwork, "You remind me of an Australian player I loved playing against."
When Jones again finished in the top three at his next Serevi camp, his fellow competitors joked that his nickname should have another meaning.
"I know why they call you, Oz," Jones was told. "It is like the Wizard of Oz. Because you throw these crazy no-look passes and off-loads, and they just magically find their way to someone's hands."
Following graduation this spring, Jones is heading up to New Haven, Connecticut, to play 7s, and after that he will be a free agent looking for opportunities to grow.
"I believe my future is looking very well," Jones said. "I am 23 years old and healthy. I am the strongest and fastest I have ever been and have very good coaches working with me to play higher level ball. … If (I'm) not looked at by a national team, I may move up to Canada and play on a national development side in Ontario."
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