NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Keith Jones II made 27 tackles in a game during his senior season on the New Brunswick High School football team.
Now that he has been hired to become the city's first chief of staff and will be working closely with Mayor Jim Cahill, he'll be tackling some of the biggest issues facing the city.
When Jones, who has served as community organization specialist for the city for more than four years, was asked what his new duties will entail, he said, "I'll be doing what I've always been doing."
"I'll help the Mayor in terms of being a presence," he said. "If he feels I should be at an event and speak on the part of the City of New Brunswick, that's part of my role. That's some of the things we've been doing for a while now. It's just more coordinated."
Jones, 37, is an enthusiastic presence at City Council meetings, often sporting his trademark bow tie and handing out fist bumps.
He has established a reputation for having a deep concern for the community.
His care and compassion is crystallized in civic efforts such as the formation of the Feeding New Brunswick Network, which seeks to unite the city's food pantries and community kitchens to help the food insecure and Code Blue, an initiative that opens public spaces and warm beds to those who need them on frigid nights.
He will be the city's point man as it ramps up to the 2020 census. In fact, after running the Complete Count Committee kickoff meeting on Monday, he was still running. Considering that his day started at 5:30 a.m., the fact he was still on his feet was a feat.
The things that keep him going on long days - and he has many of them - are his wife and three children and the promise of creating new ideas and new initiatives to serve the residents that come with each new day.
Jones then referenced a recent Facebook post in which he recounted a period of his life about five years ago when he didn't have a car, a job, self-esteem or much hope. His careers in music and fashion were in the past, so he took a job fundraising on the streets for the ACLU. There were quotas, 100-degree days and cramped carpool rides, but Jones didn't lose faith.
His story of perseverance has resonated with his Facebook friends and beyond.
"Even from my Facebook post that I didn't know was going to be as crazy as it is," Jones said. "It was one of those things that I'm now receiving messages from people who don't know me at all and they were just saying the story just touched them. I think there are opportunities for us to be beacons of light for people in dark places. That's what carries me every day."
It's been a long and winding journey for the kid who grew up on Redmond Street and Remsen Avenue. He catches a glimpse of his old school, Roosevelt Elementary, each day when he leaves the New Street Parking Deck. Then in high school, the middle linebacker/fullback set the single-game record when he recorded 27 tackles against Allentown, Pa.
After a detour to study at Alabama State, then Centenary College, he returned to the Hub City. He had offers to take jobs in Washington, but has decided to stay home.
These days, he tackles his work like he used to tackle ball carriers. Besides his duties with New Brunswick, he serves on the Middlesex County Vo-Tech School Board and the Board of Trustees at Jewish Family Services of Middlesex County.
He said being selected by Cahill to be the city's first chief of staff has been a humbling experience.
"It's one of those things where I didn't ask for it," Jones said. "It's one of those things where the mayor has a way of picking out talent and cultivating talent and challenging talent and at the same time giving your room to grow and make some mistakes and see how you carry yourself.
"I can remember the Mayor saying, 'If there's anything you need, let me know.' This was years ago. He's a true man of his word. If he says he's going to take care of you, he's going to take care of you. It's a humbling opportunity. It's a little daunting because the work doesn't get any easier. It only gets harder, but I'm up for the task. What better place to be chief of staff than in the city that you were born and raised in."