Martin Luther King High School appointed Malik Jones as its new head football coach last month, bringing in a spirit of leadership described as being creative as much as it is athletic.
Jones began at King as an assistant in 2016 and was formerly the defensive backs coach.
“It’s surreal being the head coach … in a good way,” he said. “Even as a head coach, I’m still very hands-on. To know that the words that I say can change the trajectory of students’ lives, I do not take that lightly. Some of my older guys witnessed me as a down-to-earth, fun-loving position coach who they could relax around. I still want to keep that same energy, but at the same time they know that when that whistle blows I get into character and so should they.”
Jones competed for the Bloomsburg University football team from 1998 to 2000 and honed his coaching skills throughout that time as he taught his two younger brothers to play every time he came home from school.
One brother played for Northwestern University and eventually went to the NFL to play for the Green Bay Packers and is now a free agent. The other brother competed on Cornell University’s team.
“They were 5 or 6 and I was 17 trying to give them a better chance than I had. By teaching them, I began to love the sport even more,” Jones said. “It changed my life, it saved me, it kept me away from trouble. I had a whole lot of friends who served time for murder. It literally saved me from either being on the receiving end of a gun or the other side, so I used that as a tool to give them a better chance than I had in high school.”
Jones brings the same perspective to King, focusing on the students’ development as decent human beings and not just as athletes.
“Our objective is to get as many of these guys on to the next level as we can,” he said. “I am less interested in a win than I am into developing quality young men and building their self-esteem. Building their desire to go on into life and give to the community is more important to me than going out and winning games.”
Jones said that out of his 11 starters on defense last year, eight are on scholarships in college and the remaining three are “underclassmen who are going Division I.” Achievements like that are part of what Jones sees as getting King youth to the next level.
“We’ve already won. We’ve already won because we have systems in place that teach these kids fundamental skills,” he said. “Win or lose, you need to use your fundamental skills because that’s what’s going to make you recruitable — when a college sees that you operate from a basic fundamental standpoint, you’re actually more recruitable than you are if you’re just an athlete.”
Last year, the defense allowed only 8.4 points a game, breaking a school record, and in 2017, they had 23 interceptions in 11 games, setting a public league record and, according to Jones, possibly a city record. Last weekend, the team placed third out of 16 teams in the Eagles’ 7 on 7 tournament.
Jones also brings an artistic approach to the field. As a painter, he said he uses his art skills to design plays and communicate with the athletes in a way that connects with them as individuals.
“That creativity he got, it’s not just for art,” said Tyrell Mims, a Parkway Northwest rising senior. “He uses it in football. He makes up crazy drills out here that benefit us. He works his magic.”
Mims said Jones is also big on teamwork, pushing the players to be unified even though they hail from different schools in addition to King, including Parkway Northwest, Lankenau, Hill-Freedman and Building 21.
“A lot of the drills we do are based on teamwork,” Mims said. “He helps us come together as a family. If we got players not getting along [because] they go to different schools, he’ll make them work together on the same drill and then apologize to the team.”
Principal Keisha Wilkins said she anticipates that Jones’ holistic approach will help the youth in life.
“I’m excited, most of all, because he is King alumni, he graduated in ’97 and he has worked at the school as a substitute teacher and has really good relationships with the kids, not just a football base,” Wilkins said. “When he was a defense coach, he would come in at 6 in the morning and work out with the boys at Planet Fitness — things way beyond being a coach, walking these young men to manhood.
“His personality outshines because you know he loves the kids. He was just the best choice. It was probably the easiest decision I had to make as a principal. I’m excited to continue the legacy not only of great coaching but providing mentorship to the youth in the Northwest community.”