ATLANTA — Former Appalachian State receiver Malachi Jones achieved an important goal he set after being acquired by the Atlanta Legends of the Alliance of American Football — get on film.
The AAF, founded by former Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts General Manager Bill Polian and television producer Charlie Ebersol, ceased operations on April 2. That includes the Legends, who were 2-6 before the plug was pulled on the league.
It left Jones and fellow former App State players and Legend teammates center Parker Collins and guard Will Corbin are also out of a job, although Collins signed with the Carolina Panthers. Other AAF players and former App State standouts guard Beau Nunn (San Diego Fleet) and linebacker Keenan Gilchrist (San Antonio Commanders) unemployed.
Jones was understandably disappointed when he heard the news. He found out when people started sending him and his teammates text messages on their phones after practice April 2.
“The first break was on social media,” Jones said. “We were on social media and everybody’s phones started buzzing because everyone was sending tweets along the line that the Alliance was ceasing operations.”
The AAF was formed with the idea of giving players a chance to improve their skills and eventually find a spot on an NFL roster. Jones, after a four-year college career at App State, played arena football with the High Country Grizzlies in Boone and then with the Albany Empire in the AFL. He signed with the Chicago Bears in 2018, but was released before the season started.
Former Minnesota Vikings head coach and former Bears consultant Brad Childress signed Jones to the Legends’ roster when Childress was the team’s head coach. Childress resigned before the AAF season started, but Jones made the Legends’ final roster.
Jones said his disappointment in the league’s folding was not just limited to himself, but to the league overall.
“I thought it was a great product and I thought it had great value,” Jones said. “It seemed to be well received by fans and everybody seemed to enjoy the experience. But at the end of the day, things happen for their own reasons and it was unfortunate the league had to shut down and that’s where we’re at.”
Jones was trying to extend his football career by learning more about the professional game. Many of the coaches in the AAF had NFL experience as did many players. Some players were like Jones, who were trying to break into the league for the first time. Others had NFL experience, were released by their teams, and wanted to get back.
Jones said he learned a lot from those players and coaches about what it takes to play on the NFL level.
“There are a lot of guys, not only on the (Legends), but guys who have been on NFL teams and NFL training camps,” Jones said. “We had great a great coaching staff. The competition was on a whole other level. Every week was a dogfight and every week you were facing somebody who was good at his position. It definitely elevated my game.”
Jones said he had to do more to get ready for an AAF game than any other league he ever played.
“I had to find a different approach to keep getting better and elevate my game as well,” he said. “Just watching more tape, being more critical and being more precise in route running, in technique and things of that nature. It brought my game out to a whole other level. Competition breeds success, so to have that kind of competition thrust on me like that, you couldn’t ask for a better situation to go out there and play football.”
The Legends’ overall record was not what Jones would have liked, but there were times the team saw success. He recalled Atlanta’s 14-11 win over Arizona on March 3 as one of his finer moments and one of the best games he had while in Atlanta.
Jones caught two passes for 50 yards, including one completion that went for 33 yards in the game.
“It was our first win in franchise history,” Jones said. “We were starving for a win and we had been working hard all season for a win. I was very thankful for that opportunity. To play the way I did in that game, and also get the win, was something I’ll always remember.”
Jones had another reason for being thankful for getting the chance to play for the Legends. The Lawrenceville, Ga., native was happy to be able to play in front of his family.
“I loved every second of it,” Jones said. “I can’t be more thankful for the people who were involved in the forming of the AAF and for the Atlanta Legends for giving me the opportunity. It was an opportunity to play at home in front of my family. They came out to the games for the first time in years because I was close enough to home.”