Home Local Sports Jones ‘grew a lot’ during Wingate’s historic season

Jones ‘grew a lot’ during Wingate’s historic season

Former Raider Tremel Jones (4) runs with the football during Wingate's national quarterfinal appearance on Dec. 3. (Photo credited to Ashley Garcia/Wingate University)

WINGATE — Playing a role in Wingate University’s historic run this season, Tremel Jones learned a lot about the game of football, himself and what it means to be part of a team.

A redshirt freshman, Jones lined up as a slot receiver for the Bulldogs in 2022. 

The former Richmond Senior High School all-conference offensive player of the year enjoyed his journey with Wingate, which saw a couple of big firsts in program history.

This past fall, the Bulldogs set a single-season program record for the most wins with an 11-3 record. That included Wingate advancing to the NCAA Division II Super Region 2 championship game for the first time in the school’s history.

A standout receiver at Richmond known for his speed and strong work ethic, Jones said his redshirt year allowed him to become more acclimated with the Bulldogs’ offense.

While his role this season was “more limited” than what he was used to in high school, Jones credited Wingate’s senior leadership “that really carried us” to success.

“We worked a lot during the course of the season and I feel like our effort as a whole and the leadership from players and coaches allowed for us to be successful,” Jones said. “What drove the season was how we held each other accountable, and that reminded me a lot of what we did at Richmond.

“There were a lot of people dedicated and our energy of really wanting to be a team that won games and get somewhere paid off,” he continued. “It means a lot to be able to experience this success in my first season on the field, and being in the record book with the most wins is a very exciting experience, too.”

Working out of dedicated formations, Jones proved helpful in the passing and running games. He finished the season with 12 receptions for 134 yards and two receiving scores, while adding one rushing touchdown on seven carries.

Wingate earned its fourth trip to the D-II playoffs in the past five years, and finished in a four-way tie for first place in the South Atlantic Conference’s Piedmont Division. 

Ranked No. 22 in the nation, the Bulldogs upset top-seeded Benedict and No. 14 Virginia Union to advance to the national quarterfinal round against No. 6 West Florida on Dec. 3.

Although Wingate’s season came to an end in a 45-14 loss, Jones helped give the Bulldogs an early lead with a 38-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Shaw Crocker. Jones had two catches for 41 yards and ran the ball twice for 12 yards.

“The play we ran was going to me regardless,” Jones recalled. “It was a hitch route that we’d been working on all week at practice. I saw (Crocker) look at me and I knew I had to cut my route short, but I never expected to be as open as I was.

“I caught the ball and my first thought was to get to the sideline. I used my speed to get all the way up and I had good blocking from Kamal Desor. The energy I felt crossing into the end zone is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

Noting that the whole trip was “an amazing experience,” Jones said everything from the game to flying for the first time was the perfect ending to his freshman season.

“The environment was great and our fans really made it an exciting crowd,” Jones said. “I could feel their energy and we really wanted to play for them. Being in the national quarterfinal, I can’t really explain the feeling.

“Because it was my first time being deep in the college playoffs, I was a little nervous. But my coaches told me it’d be a big day with dedicated plays for me. I think what allowed me the opportunity was the amount of work and focus I put in that week.”

No stranger to overcoming adversity, such as battling the recruitment process during the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jones knows that he still has to put in the work to get better.

While he got the taste of success between the white lines this past fall, he hopes to continue getting better to help the Bulldogs the next several years.

“I grew a lot mentally this year. Going in, it was a real learning and growing process because I had to become a role player,” Jones explained. “It was different from high school because I was always on the field.

“So far in college, I’ve learned how to support my teammates and grow with them. This was a big, humbling season, too, because I realized that areas of the game I thought I was good at, I have to keep perfecting.”

This offseason, Jones says some aspects of his game he wants to improve on are route running, catching and understanding the running game. He said he hopes to expand his role next year, both in the receiving game and out of the backfield.

“The biggest takeaway from this season is that I’m never too good to be taught anything from a teammate or coach,” Jones shared. “There are people who didn’t play who gave me advice and others who helped me understand the game better.

“Another big thing was the commitment and the bond this team had,” he closed. “Our coaches are great, but it really was my teammates who made me feel connected. And that strong bond is what’s needed to carry us to championships.”

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Kyle Pillar is a 16-time North Carolina Press Association award-winning sports editor with The Richmond Observer. Follow the sports department on Twitter @ROSports_ for the best in-depth coverage of Richmond County sports.