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It’s not easy keeping up with the Joneses

Brady Slater

After hosting its final NFL game last Sunday, they’ll turn out the lights on Metrodome later this month. But one Cloquet 10-year-old owns a highlight that won’t go so easily into the night. 

Dana Jones, 10, competed in the regional NFL Punt, Pass & Kick competition Dec. 14-15. Because of it, she was on the field prior to the Minnesota Vikings game against the Philadelphia Eagles, rubbing elbows with NFL players like … well, let’s let her tell you:

“Cordarrelle Patterson,” Jones said, summoning the dazzling rookie who was about the only bright spot in a dud season for the Purple. “He was, like, pretty close to me, signing autographs a yard away from me.

“There was an Eagles player who came up to us and was like, ‘Hey girls!’ It was really funny.”

Jones celebrates her 10th birthday today (Jan.  2), having competed in the 8-9-year-old division throughout the NFL season. She started the competition by happenstance way back in August, and kept climbing the ladder from there.

Jones and her family — mom and dad Angela and Darin, brother Dominic, 12, and sister Allie, 6 — were in Mankato visiting friends in early August when the idea, “Wouldn’t it be great to attend training camp?” came up.

“We happened to go and there happened to be the competition that day,” Angela said.

Both girls, Dana and Allie, punted, passed and kicked so well they punched their ticket to the regional round in Metrodome, Nov. 9. That’s when Dana posted her biggest score, totaling 155 feet worth of heave and boots.

“It was pretty exciting,” Dana said. “I never thought I’d have made it to the next round, but I did and really surprised myself.”

That 155 score was good enough to put her in the top four girls in her age group, meaning she’d earned the sectional round with competitors from a wide area: Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Iowa and portions of Montana and Nebraska. The final four on Dec. 14 saw Dana put up a score of 146 feet, which ended her journey but stoked her pride.

“It was a high pressure situation for the kids,” said Dana’s mom Angela. “You get one shot at each thing. If you scratch, you get zero. She did really well.”

Dana plays soccer, has started hockey this year and played softball last year for the first time. “She just loves being active,” Angela said. “She likes to be dribbling or bouncing something.”

Dana’s dad Darin played football for UMD (as a running back from 1995-97) and coached in the Cloquet Youth Football Association for years. He and Dominic, a Cloquet youth football player, teamed to tutor the girls throughout the buildup between competitions. They’d go over to the Cloquet high school field, not far from their house in Scanlon, and work on their technique.

“He’s never one to push,” said Angela of her husband, “but if the girls asked, ‘Dad, can we go toss and kick the ball?’ he was more than willing to help out.”

Once it got too cold and snowy for the outdoor work, Dana’s Washington Elementary fourth-grade teacher, Darren Johnson, helped them secure gym time at the school for practice sessions there.

“It’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen,” Johnson said about the Jones’ family exploits.

Dana said she watches “all the games” with her dad. “Obviously,” Angela said, “he’s a big Viking fan.”

What’s not so obvious is where Dana places her allegiance: “I like the Packers so much,” she said. “I was born in Wisconsin!”

With that, Dana punted another shot deep into the heart of Minnesotans everywhere.