ALTO —Life in Alto (pop. 1,225) can be quite simple, something to which the blinking light in town attests. Two blocks past it passersby will find Jones’ Farm Produce, a local place that specializes in East Texas staples such as peas, beans and watermelons.
The old-fashioned market is owned and operated by three generations of the Jones family, a hard-working clan and Alto guys to the core. Carlton, Jay and Tanner Jones spend their days in southern Cherokee County (area code 936) living freely alongside a mindful philosophy — farming, fishing and football.
“It’s fun around here,” said Carlton, the patriarch of the family. “We don’t have that much going on, but we do a lot of fishing and we do a lot of farming.”
Words to live by, no doubt.
On the gridiron, all three Joneses have played for Alto’s offensive and defensive lines during their respective eras in the program.
n Carlton, a 1960 AHS graduate, starred for the Yellowjackets back in the day en route to earning all-state and All-East Texas accolades.
n Jay, a 1985 grad, went 13-1 as a senior and performed for one of Class 2A’s most dominant teams.
n And Tanner, a senior this year, is an all-district performer who hopes to end his high school career with a bang.
“It’s a great community,” Jay said. “I enjoy living here and we have a great tradition.”
Most people who follow East Texas football should know all about Alto’s tradition, which includes 31 playoffs appearances and almost 400 wins. Success peaked under coach Keith Gardner in 2006 and ’07, during which the Yellowjackets went a combined 28-0 and captured back-to-back Class 1A state titles.
Just about the time each football season kicks off, Jones’ Produce Market closes its doors for the summer and much of the attention returns to the Friday nights lights. And when not focused on the football season, the Jones family spends its time working with cattle and preparing for the next produce season.
“I love (football),” Carlton said. “It was the only thing that kept me in school. … That’s the only thing that makes our school and our little town so popular —football especially and other sports also; the softball, the track and all that.”
Though all three played or play the same positions, some of football’s changes during the past 50 years can be found with the Joneses. That’s because Carlton played at 190 pounds, Jay performed at 205 pounds and Tanner currently weighs 285 pounds —almost 100 pounds more than his granddad did.
“Football has changed something terrible since we played,” Carlton laughed. “We thought we were the best there was. But all the fundamentals have changed since we played; well not all of them, but the biggest part of them. I weighed 190 when I graduated and I was the biggest in the school.
“We didn’t have the weight programs. We just worked on the farms and worked wherever. We showed up for workouts and got in shape and enjoyed the season.”
Though one who benefits from weight and conditioning programs, Tanner would probably perform well without them — based on the work ethic passed down to him.
“It’s a good family to look up to,” Tanner said. “I’ve got a lot of footsteps to follow, especially in football. There are a lot of things to look up to.”
Tonight, Tanner and the Yellowjackets (1-0) will be on the road against an old adversary — Groveton, the same program that knocked his dad’s final team from the postseason in the 1984 Class 2A state quarterfinals.