BELDING — Jake Jones just didn’t care.
He didn’t care about grades, he never studied and, as he admits, he assumed he could get through high school without applying himself beyond walking through the front door of the building.
After accumulating a 1.3 grade point average (GPA) and failing two classes his freshman year, it was in his sophomore year that Jones took interest in a poster he saw hanging inside Belding High School.
The poster projected what colleges students could attend based on their current GPA.
“I wasn’t even close to a single school,” Jones said. “It was pretty embarrassing what grades I had. School didn’t mean much to me. I just went because I had to.”
Jones admits he simply assumed students could go to college without any effort, thinking it was just the next step, like moving up from middle school to high school.
It was at that point that Jones made a series of changes in life.
He learned how to study, focused on his academics and, most importantly, decided he wanted to be an example for others to follow.
On Thursday, the 19-year-old senior will graduate from Belding High School with a cumulative GPA of 2.4 with more than $3,000 in scholarship money to Davenport University, where he will throw discus, shot put, javelin and hammer throw for the college track team.
Looking back, Jones considers himself lucky to have been able to change his mentality toward school and life in general.
His mother forced him to repeat the eighth grade, telling him he wasn’t ready for high school after he failed a number of classes.
“She said, ‘enough of this’ and told me I wasn’t mature enough for high school,” he said.
Jones was left behind as his friends advanced to high school. But things didn’t improve from there.
“I failed two classes my freshman year, I still just didn’t care,” he said.
Jones was soon labeled into a group of students who showed signs of dropping out of high school.
“We got into this counseling group at the school and we were taught a lot of basic things like how to study and how to act in class,” he said. “I began to improve a lot right away.”
Jones steadily raised his GPA from a 1.3 to more than 2.0 and was able to stay academically eligible for both the track and football teams. He has been on the school honor roll since January 2012 and finished his academic career on a strong note with a 3.7 GPA in his final trimester.
High School Principal Brett Zuver took notice of the turnaround Jones displayed and asked a favor of the senior. Eighth-graders from Belding Middle School packed into the gymnasium at the high school for their orientation — their guest speaker being none other than Jones.
“He was the one student I chose to speak and address the middle school students,” Zuver said. “He lets everybody know, don’t do what I did. Don’t get behind the eight ball. Take your academics seriously.”
Zuver said Jones’ turnaround has been an inspiration to many at the high school, from students to faculty. Zuver wanted that message delivered personally to the incoming freshman class.
“He didn’t just get through high school, he completely turned his life around,” he said. “Lifestyle, attitude, study habits — he’s really blossomed and is now knocking it out of the park. It’s been really exciting to watch.”
Jones says when he talks to the younger students, he just tells his story honestly and informs them of the consequences that follow if you don’t take your academics seriously.
“I tell these students about what I went through, the struggles I had and how severe the consequences are for failing a class,” Jones said. “I tell them the backstory of how I went through it. I’ve gotten four or five students who have come to me, told me they’ve struggled but are now improving. That means a lot.”
Varsity football coach Joe Schwander was hired in March 2012 and, searching for any point of leadership, was immediately impressed by Jones.
“Jake took it upon himself to go recruit kids for the football team,” Schwander said. “Kids would go down separate hallways in the high school to avoid him because he was so relentless, going after them to get them to join the team.”
His teammates voted him as a team captain and after finishing the season with only two wins, Schwander said Jones’ voice was the one his players needed to hear.
“With any sport you face adversity and Jake was always the one to encourage teammates,” Schwander said. “I commend him. Jake Jones shattered expectations. Whatever you needed him to do for whatever reason, something changed in him and he’s going to be very successful.”
Belding Middle School teacher John Carlson coached Jones in basketball in the seventh and eighth grades, where Jones missed many games for being ineligible to play because of his grades.
“There were many games in seventh and eighth where he was ineligible and was unable to play,” Carlson said. “Once he got to high school, it made football a real challenge to see if he would be able to play or not.”
But after coaching him for three years of high school track, Carlson observed a change in Jones that he won’t soon forget.
“Something clicked where he turned his grades around,” he said. “Jake changed, he became a leader on the track team, becoming captain both his junior and senior years. He wanted to be an athlete. He didn’t want to lose that part of his identity.”
Jones will now pursue a career in accounting at Davenport as he continues his athletic endeavors as well. He plans to carry his momentum forward, hoping a successful career will unfold in his next level of academics.
“You have to keep pushing forward no matter how hard things may seem,” he said. “If you work hard enough, you will see rewards. You will reap the benefits. If you have a goal, go for it, and don’t let anybody stop you.”
Zuver said he will be sad to see Jones go, as the mentality he has brought forward is one he believes students can continue to learn from.
“If we could have everybody have the same attitude, work ethic and ability to mature at that fast of a rate as Jake, then we wouldn’t have anything to worry about here at Belding High School,” Zuver said. “He’s a great young man and I know he’s going to be successful.”