VIENNA, W.Va. — University of Arizona head football coach Rich Rodriguez returned home to West Virginia to honor Taylor Jones on Thursday.
The former West Virginia University coach and football player was joined by about 125 others at the Vienna home of Joe and Barb Astorg to raise money for a WVU football scholarship in Jones’ name.
Joining Rodriguez at the fundraising reception were two of his assistant coaches at Arizona, Paden City native Jeff Casteel and Bill Kirelawich, also former coaches at WVU.
Rodriguez noted that he kept in touch with Jones, who was an avid WVU football fan and a former staff writer for the WV Blue & Gold News. Jones passed away on May 13, 2014, of cancer at the age of 27.
“She (Taylor Jones) was a special young lady,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said the main reason he returned to West Virginia this week was to help raise money for a fully endowed WVU football scholarship in Jones’ name. More than $100,000 has been raised with the goal of reaching the $500,000 endowment, something Rodriguez said he would continue working toward.
The endowment will provide scholarships for student athletes on the WVU football team. The football program provides 85 scholarships, with out-of-state scholarships costing about $25,000 per football player, said Matt Borman, senior associate athletic director/executive director of the Mountaineer Athletic Club.
Rodriguez became friends with Jones through her father, Zack of Vienna, and her uncle Matt Jones, who are members of the 1100 Club, which provides money for WVU football recruiting efforts. Rodriguez said he started the 1100 Club in 2002 with participation from Matt and Zack Jones and others from the Mid-Ohio Valley and across the state.
Rodriguez said he stays in touch with the WVU friends he met through the 1100 Club. “I look back with fondness of the people in the 1100 Club functions here,” said Rodriguez, a native of Grant Town, W.Va.
Rodriguez said he remembered seeing Taylor and Zack sitting together at WVU football practices and how interested and knowledgeable Taylor was about the football program. Taylor and Zack attended the Mountaineer football games together.
Zack Jones said Rodriguez called Taylor in Morgantown and Houston, where she was hospitalized, when he found out about Taylor’s health battles.
“We have been good, close friends with Rich. He liked Taylor. He kept in contact with Taylor,” Zack Jones said.
Casteel, who coached at WVU from 2001-2011, said he knew Taylor Jones from her writing for the WV Blue & Gold News. “She was a wonderful person,” he said.
Kirelawich, who coached football at WVU for 30 years, said Taylor Jones was a “great, super kid.”
Tammy Jones, Taylor’s mother, said she appreciates the support she and Zack have received from family and friends since Taylor’s passing. Many people have told Tammy how special Taylor was.
Rodriguez said he is close to his football playing weight of 205 pounds at WVU and expects to coach at least eight more years. He said he is happy living and coaching in Arizona.