Several years ago, I received a phone call from a writer at Sports Illustrated, asking me if I could connect him with a man who was homeless on the streets of Pasadena, CA, Eugene Jones. The writer said that he would love to connect with Eugene, who he described as possibly the best linebacker prospect the Nation had ever seen in the late 1970’s. I told him that I would ask Eugene if he was interested the next time that I saw him.
I saw Eugene a short time later and asked him about the interview. “Yes, I played with James McAlister and Kermit Johnson for Blair High School. We were undefeated, 13-0, and then I played at UCLA. I am not ready to be interviewed at this time of my life and in the current shape I am in.”
I Google-searched Eugene’s football background and this is what I found from the Sports Illustrated Vault and other news reports from that era:
“When McAlister graduated from high school, the recruiters lined up three deep. He had three close friends at Blair: Kermit Johnson, another running back; Eugene Jones, a 6’3″, 230-pound tight end; and Billy Williams, a 6’1″, 190-pound defensive back.
To the surprise of no one, James McAlister was a runaway pick as Player of the Year in “AAAA” division football for 1969 as Southern California sports journalists met at Helms Hall to make their annual all-star football team selections. Since 1937, members of the southland press have gathered to select the top high-school grid stars and in turn honor them for their collective gridiron exploits. The 1969 season was a banner year, as records were toppled right and left.
McAlister and running mate Kermit Johnson rolled up over 4,000 yards between them in rushing offense for the season… a remarkable and unmatched feat in the southland. McAlister’s total of 2,168 yards is third best in local history, with his career mark (4,367 yards) second only to Mickey Cureton’s 4,920 yards.
The 6-foot-one, 200-pound fullback scored 31 touchdowns over the season and a total of 228 points, third best 1n CIF history. Glenn Davis set the record of 236 in 1942 and then Centennial’s Mickey Cureton set the current mark of 240 in 1966.
The Foothill League champions charged through their divisional playoff chores, whipping Bishop Amat in the finale 28-27…and more impressively than the score indicated. In the three earlier playoff encounters the Vikings murdered Hueneme 62-0 …ran away from Santa Monica 44-19 and sneaked past Lakewood 24-19, before doing in the Angelus League co-champion Lancers. It is interesting to note that Coach Pete Yoder, who directed the title-winning Vikings, also quarterbacked Downey High to the CIF title back 1n 1957. Coach Pete was an All-ClF first-team pick that year.
ALL-SOUTHERN SECTION “AAAA” TEAM — 1969
FIRST TEA M
Center…… NICK BUCKIVIEYER
Gradually I got to know Eugene better, and I was always impressed with his strong handshake and gentle manners. He is a big man, and I sensed in several challenging situations that he always had my back. He was struggling with some kind of addition, probably crack cocaine, for decades, and didn’t talk much, but he was always polite and kind to me. I tried to encourage him to enter into programs and get help. He sometimes rode his bike by my house and we’d talk briefly. The last time I saw him living on the streets, he came into a Von’s grocery store and with all the money that he had was trying to buy a little something at the counter. “Are you hungry?” I asked. Eugene said, “Yes!” I told him to get what he needed and I would treat him. He came back with a loaf of bread, stack of sandwich meat, jar of mayonnaise, and a gallon of lemonade. I told him, “Eugene, I am now the head of Union Rescue Mission in downtown Los Angeles, and if you will come in and get clean, I will find a job for you.”
I didn’t see Eugene for several months, possibly over a year. Then he showed up looking clean, with some of his weight back on, and beaming with pride. “Andy, I just completed a program, I am in a halfway house, and I am here to apply for a job!” There is no way I would not keep my word. Our Human Resources director interviewed Eugene, twice, and hired him as an usher/attendant for our guests at Union Rescue Mission. He is doing a spectacular job, and he is letting me tell his story, of a life transformed.