Lampasas lost its legend.
After being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2005, Johnny “Lam” Jones succumbed to the disease Friday, dying at the age of 60.
A high school icon on the football field and track for the Badgers, Jones went on to win an Olympic gold medal at the age of 18 before producing a standout career for the Texas Longhorns and being drafted second overall in the 1980 NFL Draft by the New York Jets.
In Lampasas, however, Jones means so much more.
“When people say someone put a place on the map,” Lampasas athletic director Troy Rogers said, “nobody is a truer definition of that than Johnny “Lam” Jones.
“He put Lampasas on the map.”
Growing up in Lampasas, Rogers was in the same class as Jones’ daughter and always heard of his accomplishments, including a borderline mythical performance at the 1976 state track meet, where he made up 40 yards as the anchor leg of the 1,600-meter relay, going from seventh place to first. In the process, he helped the Badgers win the Class 3A state title.
But admittedly, Rogers did not truly understand the scope of Jones’ greatness until later in life.
“I didn’t realize what a big deal it was until I left and would tell people where I was from,” Rogers said. “They would always respond with something about Johnny “Lam” Jones.
“Then you understand that his folklore is pretty large.”
His achievements were anything but myth, though.
Already a state superstar in high school, Jones rode the momentum of his senior season all the way to the 1976 Olympics, where he won a gold medal as part of the 400 relay and placed sixth in the 100.
Then, he rewrote the Longhorns’ record books as a sprinter and served as a running back and wide receiver under head coaches Darrell Royal and Fred Akers, earning All-America honors twice.
For Lampasas High School principal Joey McQueen, who served as the Badgers head football coach from 2009 to 2011, some of his fondest memories of Jones have nothing to do with athletic endeavors.
“He would come and spend an hour with me about once every three weeks,” McQueen said, “and we would just talk. I’d finally tell him, ‘I’m sorry, Johnny, but I have to go to a coaches meeting.’ Then, he’d say, ‘Can I go with you?’
“Those times were just really neat.”
After being picked by the Jets, Jones failed to live up to the lofty selection and battled with drug and alcohol addiction.
His NFL career was over in five years, and in 1988, he pled guilty to indecency with a child.
He regained control of his life, though, and Jones began serving as a motivational speaker, urging high school students to make positive choices.
And now, his legend transcends generations.
“Coming from a little town like Lampasas,” Badgers’ multisport athlete Ace Whitehead said, “just knowing we had one of the fastest humans ever to walk across the Earth come from here is pretty cool.
“A superhuman came from here.”