COLONIE — Malachi Jones showed he could dominate the Arena Football League last year.
Now, to keep moving forward in his football journey, he has to show he can do it again.
That’s a challenge the 25-year-old accepts, understands and welcomes as he gets sets for his second season with the Albany Empire.
“Absolutely,” Jones said Monday during the Empire’s media day event at Hearst Media Center. “I feel like every year I never want to get complacent. Every year, I want to keep showcasing that I can be better. I don’t want to get stagnant.”
During the Empire’s inaugural 2018 season, Jones was the league’s breakout star. Last year, Jones was named AFL Wide Receiver of the Year and Rookie of the Year after he led the league in receiving yards (1,156), total touchdowns (34) and receiving yards per game (96.3).
That earned Jones an opportunity to compete for a roster spot last season for the National Football League’s Chicago Bears, then one playing for the Atlanta Legends of the Alliance of American Football League. Jones had a three-year contract with the AAF, but re-signed with the Empire earlier this month after the AAF shut down.
“To be honest, yes, [I am surprised to be back with the Empire] because I thought the Alliance had a great format,” Jones said of the league that lasted for eight weeks of games. “But I’m glad to be back. At the end of the day, I’m sad to see the AAF go, but it led me back here — and I couldn’t be more happy to be here.”
Albany starts its second year of play in the AFL with a 7 p.m. Saturday game against the Columbus Destroyers at Times Union Center. Several stars from last season’s team that finished the regular season as the top seed are back for the Empire, as is head coach Rob Keefe, who underscored how important it was for the Empire to bring back Jones when that became possible.
“Every single arena football team wanted him,” said Keefe, whose team was upset in the first round of last year’s playoffs. “For us, to have him come back here, to choose us again [since] we only have one-year contracts, I think he knows he’s poised to have a great year because he wants to represent this community so well.”
“He’s got a full year of experience in the AFL, so he’ll just get better,” said quarterback Tommy Grady, the AFL’s reigning MVP.
The expectation is that Jones, with another spectacular campaign in the AFL, will earn another shot at trying to stick with an NFL team. Keefe eluded to that during Monday’s event — “Malachi has a lot of options” — but Jones isn’t consumed on a day-to-day basis right now with anything other than doing whatever he can to help the Empire.
“The only personal goal I’ve got is to win a championship,” Jones said. “I just want to be the best player I can be for my teammates, on and off the field, every week.”
Jones, an Appalachian State alumnus, said he’s eager for Saturday night’s season opener to arrive.
“Can’t wait to get started,” Jones said. “It’s been a long offseason, and with how everything finished last season, we’ve just been waiting for the opportunity to get back on the field. We had a great training camp and guys are excited. We have a great mixture of young talent and veteran talent on this team, and it was showcased during camp.”
As for his own future, Jones said all he needs to focus on is delivering another spectacular campaign for the Empire.
“I feel like if I’m just the best player I can be every week,” Jones said, “everything else will take care of itself.”
Reach Michael Kelly at [email protected] or @ByMichaelKelly on Twitter.
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