Carleton “Cotty” Jones was lighter lineman than many of his adversaries in high school, but childhood produced his heavy burden. Jones woke up one day when he was 10 in 1955 scared to death.
“I got polio when the polio epidemic was coming about,” Jones said. “I woke up one morning and couldn’t sit up, couldn’t move. Dr. Cosby, this was back when pediatricians would come to your home, came out and they took me down and did a spinal tap. I’ll never forget – we found out it was polio and I went in the hospital right away.”
Jones said he was in the hospital six to seven weeks.
“I was lucky, obviously, it ended up not giving me a permanent paralysis,” Jones said. “I was on the polio ward with people that were in the iron lung down the room. I could talk to them.”
Getting sick didn’t initially gain Jones sympathy in all quarters.
“They all disliked me because they isolated – quarantined – the whole neighborhood for two weeks to see if anybody else had it,” he said. “Everybody had to stay home a week or two: ‘That little Cotty Jones, we can’t go anywhere because he’s sick.’”
Jones believes the polio scare, which left him puny, fueled his physical fitness fixation.
“I got my own set of weights and taught myself weightlifting,” Jones said. “I would get these magazines on strength and health that York Barbell Company would put out about how you were supposed to lift weights. Actually, no one was really doing that at Science Hill. They didn’t have a set of weights that I remember. I wasn’t the greatest athlete, but I think I was probably ahead of some people because of all that weightlifting. …
“I would take two 25-pound plates and a 10-pound plate and tape them together with some athletic tape, and then I would put them behind my back and do sit-ups with it. And it’s a lot harder to do it behind your neck than holding it on your chest.”
Jones was Science Hill’s center when Steve Spurrier was the center of attention. Jones jokes that he was setting the dramatic stage for Spurrier when his bad snap set up a touchdown to help Church Hill build a 21-point lead in the Exchange Bowl their senior year. Spurrier threw four TD passes in the second half for a 28-21 victory.
“You knew Steve was exceptional,” Jones said. “He could draw a play on the ground. If it wasn’t working, Jimmy Sanders might come back in and say such and such or ‘I can do this.’ It was like over there Kiwanis Park, you know, backyard ball. Steve Spurrier just had a real feel for sports – football or whatever.
“Steve was out at the lake one time and he said you know, ‘I didn’t know Boone Lake existed until we came out to you all’s little cabin after the Kingsport game and there was the lake. He’d been in Johnson City since the sixth grade. … His life was playing sports, shooting baskets and throwing footballs at Kiwanis Park.”
Jones helped provide Spurrier time to pick apart Church Hill in the comeback victory.
“Cotty was a good player,” then-assistant coach Emory Hale said. “He could reach-block, he could cut linebackers off and he was especially good at pass protecting. Steve threw a lot of drop-back passes, and I can’t remember us ever getting anything but very little pressure up the middle.
“Cotty Jones played a fantastic game when they beat Kingsport (the game before the Exchange Bowl). He wasn’t real big. He may have been 165 or 170, but he was really quick and really strong.”
Science Hill beat Dobyns-Bennett consecutive seasons when Jones was there. Jones always was pleased with how he performed against Oak Ridge’s Steve Sadowski, although the Hilltoppers lost a close one.
“Our senior year, we lost to Morristown by four points, Oak Ridge by one and Bristol by one,” Jones said. “We lost three games by six points. Those were kind of tough.
“We did beat Kingsport two years in a row. I don’t know how often that’s been done, but I get the idea it’s not been done very often. Maybe we didn’t have the greatest teams in the world, although my senior year I thought we had a pretty good team.”
Jones made The AP All-State team.
“Cotty was a good player,” teammate Tom Hager said. “He was into weightlifting and being fit before that was what people did. He wasn’t like a rah-rah type guy, but he was serious about being a player – not that the other guys weren’t. But he was more serious about it than most people. He was even into eating properly.”
The strict diet was inspired by head coach Kermit Tipton.
“One time he was trying to get people to quit drinking so many Cokes and sweet drinks,” Jones said. “He said, ‘You shouldn’t drink any of those sweet, carbonated beverages.’ Well, I took that for the gospel truth. So for three years, I didn’t drink a Coca-Cola or anything with sugar and carbonation in it.”
Jones and Spurrier each made six-figure donations to Science Hill to help with a facilities upgrade that included the new Kermit Tipton Stadium.
“I loved playing for Coach Tipton,” said Jones, who visits Tipton in the nursing home. “Coach Tipton is the kind of man who you just wanted to earn his respect.”
Hager applauds Jones’ generosity.
“He didn’t want a big to-do made about it,” Hager said. “He did it because he believed in what they were doing. … Going back and forth between here and Georgia where he’s lived, he’s seen what some communities do for athletic facilities – in South Carolina and Georgia. And there’s some pretty impressive places, and I’m talking about the total complex. Cotty wanted to see Science Hill playing in facilities like that.”
Jones is especially interested in seeing a new fieldhouse erected, perhaps, in part, because he had no weight room.
“I always did that (weight training) at home,” Jones said. “No one knew I did that. Well, Coach Tipton knew. We just didn’t have that program available. … Coming from the polio background and being able to develop like that and play at a good high school level – that was probably the biggest thing for me.”