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Rod Jones, standout tight end on Huskies’ 1984 Orange Bowl team, dies from suicide at age 54

Jones’ family is making arrangements to donate his brain to Boston University’s CTE Center. A memorial is planned for this coming Saturday at the Don James Center.

Rod Jones, a standout tight end for the Washington Huskies in the 1980s who spent the past 18 years as a popular academic coordinator in the UW athletic department, died by suicide Saturday afternoon at the age of 54.

He had recently been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, his daughter said, and his family believes he was suffering from symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). He also had a history of alcohol abuse.

“He’s been dealing with depression for years,”said his daughter, Jamie. “I can’t pinpoint exactly when, but he started to notice some memory loss. He just couldn’t remember things.”

Jamie Jones said her father took his own life with a single gunshot to the head on Friday. He was surrounded by family members and former UW teammates at Harborview Medical Center when doctors declared him dead around 4 p.m. Saturday. Jones is survived by his wife, Carla; daughters Krystal Roquemore and Jamie Jones; son, Rod Jr.; and granddaughter, Arielle Hatten.

On Sunday morning, the family began making arrangements with the staff at Boston University’s CTE Center to donate Jones’ brain for research.

“He was a very private person, and he didn’t want anyone to know anything about what he was going through,” Rod Jones Jr. said about his father. “I want people to know: depression is real. Reaching out to people and letting people know that it’s OK to talk about what’s going on. And if they’re talking to you, you have to listen, please.”

Rod Jones was inducted into the Husky Hall of Fame as part of the 1984 football team, which finished the season No. 2 in the country after famously defeating Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, one of the most celebrated games in UW history.

“That was a great year,” Rod Jones said in a 2017 interview with “The memories are still up front — they’re a little fuzzy now; bell rung a few times. But it was great. What can I say?”

As a senior, Jones was a captain on Don James’ 1986 team, and he finished his career with 81 receptions — at the time the school record for a tight end. He was a first-team all-Pac-10 selection and an honorable-mention All-American as a senior.

“He was an amazing guy. Nothing but laughs,” said Jimmy Rodgers, a captain of the ’84 team who was with the family at Harborview on Saturday.

Rod Jones spent parts of three seasons in the NFL, first with the Kansas City Chiefs and then a final season, in 1989, with the Seahawks. Then his football career was over at age 25.

“When you miss out on the million-dollar contract and the endorsements and there is no more football, you kind of go into a funk,” Jones told The Seattle Times’ Bob Condotta in a 2004 interview. “I was almost in a depression for like five or six years of, what do I do now?”

He found a new purpose when, at age 35, he returned to UW in 1999 to complete his undergraduate degree as part of the athletic department’s post-eligibility program.

He received his degree in Ethnic Studies in 2000 and soon after was hired by the athletic department as an academic coordinator, helping current and former players toward degrees of their own.

“He loved the UW,” Jamie Jones said. “That was his home and that’s where he found his identity.”

A number of current and former student-athletes took to social media to post messages of appreciation for Jones this weekend. Athletic director Jennifer Cohen issued a statement Sunday.

Warning signs of suicide

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or have concerns about someone else who may be, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

You will be routed to a local crisis center where professionals can talk you through a risk assessment and provide resources in your community.

The more of the signs below that a person shows, the greater the risk of suicide.

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

Source: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

“We are heartbroken by the tragic passing of Rod Jones,” she said in the statement. “Rod has been an integral part of the Husky family dating back to his playing days at the UW and now through his service of our student-athletes as a member of our academic support staff. Our thoughts, prayers and heartfelt condolences go out to Rod’s family as they mourn this devastating loss.”

As an academic coordinator, Rod Jones used to hold what he called “reality check” meetings with players about their futures.

“I respect their dreams of wanting to get to the NFL,” he said in 2004. “I know you couldn’t tell me back then that (the NFL is a long shot). But I give them the story of my life and that of friends of mine who went through hard times, and even guys who were a success, because I think it helps them to get adjusted and prepared to come back when it is their time to do it.

“That’s my role now, to try to change that attitude and try to influence the kids to finish your degree now and not wait until you are 40 years old.”

A memorial is planned for this coming Saturday at the Don James Center at Husky Stadium.

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