Sunday felt like a regular gameday for Malachi Jones.
The former Appalachian State wide receiver woke up and had his regular gameday breakfast (peanut butter and oatmeal), took his same pregame nap and made his way to the stadium.
But Jones, a player for the Albany Empire of the Arena Football League, noticed an already rowdy fan base was even more amped up thanks to the setting: it was ArenaBowl 32.
“Once the kickoff was there, we were about 12,000-plus deep in the arena, man,” Jones said in a phone interview. “It was electrifying. Our home base did a great job just coming out and supporting us.”
The Empire won the league championship, marching on to a 45-27 victory against the Philadelphia Soul. The title is yet another accomplishment for Jones’ short indoor football career.
Last year, his first in the AFL, he was named the league’s rookie of the year and receiver of the year. This season, he earned receiver of the year honors again after registering 1,440 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Now, Jones waits. He said he will spend some more time in Albany, celebrating the championship with the community while also relaxing and letting his body heal. He’s also staying ready for another chance to join an NFL team’s training camp.
When he finished up with the Empire last season, Jones joined the Chicago Bears but was waived when the team cut its roster down to the league-mandated 53 players. He then appeared this spring with the Atlanta Legends of the AAF, which folded in its debut season. Jones had 22 receptions, 312 yards and two touchdowns.
Jones said he’s going to keep fighting for more NFL opportunities because that’s a lifelong dream. But on a smaller scale, he’s focusing on his day-to-day enjoyment of the game and letting his career shake out however it needs to.
“At the end of the day, I just produce the film and hopefully, it catches the attention of a particular team and they take a chance on me,” Jones said. “At this point, all I can do is play the game as best as I can and play for an opportunity.
“It gets a little hard sometimes and obviously you get to a point where it’s like, ‘Do I need to keep trying?’ But I have a great supporting cast with my teammates, coaches and my family, and I just continue to just try to get better every single day.”
And Jones might pursue another opportunity in the near future. On Tuesday, he received an invitation from the XFL to participate in the revamped league’s first draft in October.
Much like the AAF, the second installment of the XFL is a start-up league. The first version of the XFL came in 2001, lasting only one season. Play for the new XFL is scheduled to start in 2020.
Even though the AAF’s time as a league died early, Jones has no reservations about going into another chance to play football outside on national television — the XFL signed multiyear deals with both ESPN and Fox Sports to broadcast its games.
“I’m open to any and every opportunity,” Jones said.
With those decisions still to come, Jones said he’s enjoyed the jubilation he’s experienced since the Empire’s title. It’s also highlighted one of the reasons he returned to Albany for another season: his relationships with the fans and the city as a whole. He felt like people have embraced him at every stop of his career. That connection has made for an even more special connection during his time in New York.
“My parents preached just treating people how you want to be treated and everywhere I go, I try to have an individual relationship with everybody I come across and just try to treat them with the utmost respect,” Jones said. “Just because I would love to have that kind of respect from people as well.
“But you know, it’s something I’ve been doing as a kid. Even at App, a lot of people gravitated toward me because I got so much love there, and I felt like I had to give it back because people are so great. Yeah, just like I said, I love the city of Albany. They do nothing but take care of me up here, man.”