ALBANY, N.Y. — Former Appalachian State receiver Malachi Jones was named the Arena Football League’s Offensive Player of the Year Aug. 9.
Jones led the league with 96 catches for 1,440 yards and was second in the league with 25 touchdowns. Jones was the only player who finished with more than 1,000 yards. Jones also earned First Team All-Arena Honors.
Better than all of that, according to Jones, was the Empire’s 45-27 victory over the Philadelphia Soul 45-27 in ArenaBowl 32. It was the Empire’s second season in existence and it allowed them to forget an embarrassing loss in the 2018 playoffs after finishing at the top of the AFL standings.
“Words can’t describe it,” Jones said. “I was so proud of the effort of my team the entire season. We definitely faced some adversity during the season and in the Arena Bowl itself. The way our guys came through and produced the way they did, there’s no feeling that can describe.”
Jones credited everyone involved with the Empire for putting together a championship season.
“It was a collective effort,” Jones said. “I was so proud of my teammates and coaches, the organization and the fans. Everybody had a goal that they wanted to attain and we stuck to it. We had great team chemistry and everybody did their job and everybody did what they needed to do to get the win.”
It was a chance for Albany to atone for how the 2018 season when the expansion Empire won the regular season title with an 8-4 record. Albany was the No. 1 seed of the fourth-team playoffs, but was stunned by the 2-10 Washington Valor 103-97.
The Empire went back to the top of the AFL standings with a 10-2 record and won the league championship over the Soul. Jones said the championship game was played in front of a sold-out arena in Albany, and was an experience he would not soon forget.
“The season was great,” Jones said. “We had a hashtag of ‘unfinished business’ since the end of last season as far as we definitely didn’t like the way the season ended last year. We wanted to come out this season and start fast and end fast.”
Jones said the individual accolades are great. Winning a championship is even better.
Jones’ journey to the AFL championship has seen its share of twists. After a solid college career at App State, Jones played his first season out of college with the defunct High Country Grizzlies of the National Arena League in 2017.
Jones was the 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year of the NAL. He signed with the Atlanta Havoc of the American Arena League the next season, but played in one game before signing with the Empire, also in 2018 where he caught 77 passes for 1,156 yards and 29 touchdowns.
Jones got his chance at the NFL when he signed a free agent deal with the Chicago Bears on Sept. 1, 2018, but was released before the regular season started.
Jones got another shot at professional football when he signed with the Atlanta Legends of the Alliance of American Football in the spring of the 2019 season. That didn’t last long since the AAF folded after Jones caught 22 passes for 312 yards and two touchdowns in eight games.
Jones’ latest twist came when he signed with the Empire for a second time, on April 10, 2019. Jones benefitted from the Empire signing longtime arena quarterback Tommy Grady, who played for Jacksonville when Jones was with the Grizzlies. Jones calls Grady “The Tom Brady of arena ball.”
“Going from year one to year two, I understood the game a lot better,” Jones said. “I understood coverages. I had that timing connection with my quarterback Tommy Grady. We had a great offensive line, the No. 1 offensive line in the league and I have a group of receivers around me, who did a great job of putting us all in a position to make plays.”
Jones said he still harbors a dream of returning to the NFL. He said the Tennessee Titans brought him in for a look and gave him good feedback on his tryout.
He also said he’s heard good things from coaches and from his agent.
“I’m hoping with the season I had and some of the accolades I picked up it will get somebody’s attention,” Jones said. “I might have something in the works soon, but if not, I will explore my options. When the time comes for possibly playing in the AFL for another season or experimenting in the XFL or things like that. The NFL is definitely a goal of mine, but whatever happens, whatever God has for me, that’s the plan I want.”