Playing with Passion: Former Ike star Elisha Jones tackling new sport, women’s professional football
Elisha Jones is at it again.
But her former high school basketball coach, Dave Allenson, didn’t see this one coming from the All-Everything volleyball, basketball and track and field standout.
Warren County’s all-time leading female scorer in high school basketball with 1,829 points, and a former PIAA state champion and school record-holder in javelin, the 2007 Eisenhower High School graduate Jones is now a professional football player.
It’s fitting that she plays for the Pittsburgh Passion (pittsburghpassion.com), of the nationwide Women’s Football Alliance, because Passion is the reason she’s playing.
“After being an athlete my whole life, I felt like there was a little void that needed filled after I retired from basketball,” said Jones. “I really missed being part of a team and competing.”
Jones is currently in graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh for the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program.
“My only sports involvement since graduating from Waynesburg has been summer basketball leagues,” she said. “I hadn’t had time for much else because of the demands of the DPT program.”
Jones chose Waynesburg University so she could be on the Division III women’s basketball and track and field teams, while majoring in physical therapy.
She broke school and conference records in the javelin, won conference titles, and also qualified for the Division III National Championships in track and field. In fact, she was the school’s first, male or female, two-time track All-American.
Jones was all-conference four times in basketball at Waynesburg, scoring 1,372 career points in college.
While at Waynesburg, Jones had talked to her father about the Pittsburgh Passion, one of 53 Women’s Football Alliance teams from all over the nation – formed in March 2002 and currently owned by Teresa Conn and Franco Harris.
“I had always known about the Pittsburgh Passion,” she said. “I had attended several of their games while I was an undergrad and thought it was pretty cool that there was a women’s tackle football league. Women’s sports are constantly evolving, and I wanted to be a part of that progress. Plus, who wouldn’t want to become a professional athlete if given the chance?”
Her father had remembered her talking about it. But, football?
“I’m not surprised, but it’s hard to believe,” said her father, Bob Jones. “I know it will sink in after seeing Saturday’s game.”
Elisha is a defensive back for the Passion, and Pittsburgh opens its season at home at Highmark Stadium, at Station Square, at 7 p.m. Saturday against the Washington, D.C. Divas.
“The tryout consisted of running through various drills, timed 40, timed agility drills etc. Combine type stuff,” she said.
“I play cornerback,” said Elisha. “It wasn’t much of an adjustment because football coverages aren’t that different from basketball defenses. We practice three nights a week. Practices are usually three hours long. We run through drills, focus on individual positions, watch some film, and have team time where we bring it all together. It definitely keeps me busy between being a full-time student, working, and playing football. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Allenson sees the correlation.
“As a (defensive) back … you’re watching the ball at the same time you’re watching a receiver go out,” said Allenson. “There’s the ball, there’s the man, and putting yourself in between the two.
“I didn’t think of her playing football, but then I’m not surprised,” he said. “Like she describes herself, she’s very athletic, the jock. I can see her doing it because it’s competitive and that’s always been a part of her, wanting to win.”
Conn thinks Jones – in her No. 43 (Troy Polamalu’s number with the Steelers) – will represent the Passion and the city well.
“We are teaching life lessons through sport,” said Conn, “so we try to attract people that walk the talk – strong, classy, character women. And I think in doing that the winning takes care of itself. If you pick the right type of people, you’re going to have success.
“Elisha is not just athletic, which she is, but she’s dedicated… and positive… and a great teammate,” said Conn. “People make a big deal about it being football, but at the end of the day, it’s a game. I think you could teach Elisha to be successful in any sport.”
She can also be a good ambassador for the sport.
“The Passion has had a tremendous impact on the Pittsburgh community,” said Jones. “The team is involved in numerous events that raise money for various organizations and charities. We also serve as role models for young girls who are aspiring athletes. After all, we are playing a sport that we have been told we couldn’t play. That’s what makes the organization so special. It is very much a family type atmosphere, and my teammates are some of the most amazing women I have ever met. We come from all walks of life and we represent almost every profession you can think of. It is truly a special thing.
“It’s important to live up to your potential,” she said. “That means putting in the extra work and proving others wrong. And I do feel strongly about advancing women in sport. Growing up, I think I took it for granted that I was blessed with the opportunity to play sports. Now, I realize what it took for women to get where we are today. Equality doesn’t always come easy. It is always interesting to talk to the veteran players on the team, especially the ones who were there for the inaugural season of women’s tackle football. They really had to break some major barriers to get the league up and running. There is not a single player on the team that doesn’t hope to be paving a path for young girls down the road who want to play football. We are not only proudly representing the city of Pittsburgh, but a much larger cause.”
Allenson “can’t think of a better role model than Elisha,” he said.
“I am passionate about playing football because I like being a part of something bigger than myself,” said Jones. “We are paving the way for women’s sports, and I hope that I will get to see the day where women’s football players are paid to play, much like the WNBA players.
“We don’t get paid in the traditional sense,” she said. “We have to go out and get sponsorships to cover our playing costs. (But) We are professional football players.”
That includes tackling, obviously.
“We do tackling drills during practice, as well as going ‘live’ during team time at the end of each practice,” said Jones. “It was definitely an adjustment to learn a sport this much more physical that basketball. But the coaches are patient and want all the rookies to learn how to safely tackle. There are plenty of bumps and bruises at the end of the night. But it is all worth the while.
“(Former Eisenhower teachers and classmates) would probably not find this to be uncharacteristic of me,” said Jones. “I was always the ‘jock’ and I am sure people will not be surprised that I am playing football. I am currently engaged. My fiancee was not crazy about me playing football at first because he was worried that I would get injured. But he has come around and is supportive of me and the team.”
And dad has come around.
“I’ve never discouraged her,” he said. “I just want her to get me Franco Harris’ autograph.”