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Building Character and Helping Kids

Four Athletes Share Their Stories

Article by William Harwood

Photography by Hany Ramzy

Originally published in Brentwood Lifestyle

Ben Jones

Center, Tennessee Titans

The 6-foot-3-inch, 308-pound Titans’ center Ben Jones may look like he’s all muscle, but he’s really all heart. Unless, of course, you are a clay pigeon, in which case you are in serious trouble; Ben will blast you right out of the sky.

“I’m a pretty good shot,” he says with an even bigger grin.  

Along with his wife, Alex, Ben feels called by his deep Christian faith to use his passion for the sport of clay pigeon shooting to help at-risk youth aim for a better life. This year marks the third annual Ben Jones Celebrity Clay Shoot, an event held at the Nashville Gun Club in which each team of participants is paired with a current or former Titans player or coach.  

“The response among the team has been tremendous,” Ben says. “I have 30 players who want to participate but only 26 teams for the event.”  

A native of Bibb County, Alabama, Ben grew up hunting quail and deer on a cattle farm.  

“When I got to the NFL, every charity was a golf tournament. Well, if you’re not good at golf, that’s a five-hour ordeal," he says. "With clay pigeons, the whole thing takes less than two hours. Plus, if you make a bad shot in golf, you have to go find your ball. In clay pigeon shooting, you just shoot again.”  

And clay pigeon shooting is not only fun; it also provides a lot of bucks for the bang. The first year the Ben Jones Celebrity Clay Pigeon Shoot generated enough funds to build a new kitchen at Nashville’s Ronald McDonald House, a home-away-from-home for families seeking care for critically ill kids. Last year, the event raised more than $100,000 to support causes such as Endure Athletics; Backfield in Motion; and Alive Hospice, a nonprofit that provides compassionate end-of-life care and bereavement support for loved ones left behind, particularly kids. Ben, who lost his own father when he was only 10, remains powerfully motivated to help others who find themselves in similar circumstances.  

As for Ben’s post-NFL future, it remains football and helping youth thrive mentally, physically and spiritually.

“I want to coach at the high school level,” Ben says. 

Dr. Thomas Homonnay

Owner, Brentwood Family Dentists

As someone who grew up for the first 12 years of his life in Westport, Connecticut, it’s not surprising that Dr. Thomas Homonnay looks up to Tom Brady.

“I think what stands out most about him is not his athletic ability, but his character. I admire the way he carries himself—his humility and his intense competitive drive and perseverance.”

But Dr. Hommonay has some competitive drive and perseverance of his own. How else to explain his successful balancing of 40-plus hours of athletics during high school and college with full-time course loads?

“The key for me was prioritizing the most important things first,” he recalls. “I decided I would not let either aspect of my life suffer; however, a healthy balance is extremely important.”

In town since his years at Brentwood High—he helped the soccer team win state—Dr. Hommonay continues to stay involved with the high school and community sports leagues.  

“I enjoy playing some pickup leagues around town,” he says, “but most of my sports life now consists of coaching, spectating and sponsoring.”  

As for the deeper meaning of sports itself, the dentist waxes philosophical.

“Sports are an interesting tool in human development,” he says. “I found that it taught me many vital attributes that are instilled in me today: camaraderie, working with others on a common goal, putting the team and others before myself. Athletics helped me develop strong characteristics such as perseverance, hard work and discipline.”  

Even defeat can be a learning experience.  

“The one thing I will never forget is the feeling of defeat,” he shares. “There have been times in my life when I was told I could not accomplish a goal. It was that feeling of defeat that gave me the drive to continue to achieve my goals.”

Mark Williams 

Owner, RSU Contractors

A preacher’s kid who grew up in Middle Tennessee, Mark Williams admired baseball great Pete Rose, aka “Charlie Hustle,” for his supreme work ethic.

“When he got a walk,” Mark says, “he sprinted to first, excited for the next play.”  

But Mark is no athletic slouch himself. A high school football standout at Murfreesboro’s Oakland High School, Mark switched over to rugby at MTSU while still earning his degree in four years and starting his own successful business, RSU Contractors.

However, “switching” to rugby doesn’t quite do justice to Mark’s sport transition. Mark practically adopted rugby, playing not just for MTSU but also for the Nashville Rugby Football Club, his team traveling all over the world for matches. Mark also began to coach the sport, achieving great success by taking MTSU all the way to the elite eight, an extraordinary accomplishment. He also coached at the high school level and helped launch the Tennessee High School Rugby League, a league for which he remains the state commissioner.     

“At this stage, I have coached thousands of players,” Mark says. “I coached at Ravenwood for several years, winning state championships. I won a National Championship in 2000 with the South Collegiate All-Stars. I now am director and coach for the USA Rugby South for all-star rugby for high school and youth.”

Along with the trophies and accolades, Mark has accrued deep insight into the role sports have in shaping character.

“Coaching is all about developing a player’s confidence and character,” he says. “Rugby is a demanding game, requiring teamwork. Once players accept responsibility and become willing to do the hard work, they start to play for each other and do what’s best for the team.”  

In other words, athleticism alone is not sufficient.

“Without character and team culture, we will not have ultimate success,” Mark observes. “Rules can sometimes be broken, but culture cannot. Even if you get a bad referee call against you, you never stop working for the team."

Damon Smith

Realtor, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Woodmont Realty 

Oklahoma consistently produces many of the nation’s top wrestlers. Brentwood High School’s head wrestling coach Damon Smith hails from the Sooner State, and sooner rather than later is how quickly Damon has transformed the wrestling program into a powerhouse, winning the region title back to back and finishing among our state’s top 10 teams in both of his first two years.

Raised in the small town of Ada, Oklahoma, where his father was a mortician operating a funeral home, Damon grew up admiring fellow Okie John W. Smith, the most accomplished American wrestler of all time, an athlete who garnered six world championships and two Olympic gold medals. As fate would have it, John Smith wound up being Damon’s college coach at Oklahoma State University, providing Damon with expert guidance in both wrestling and work ethic, a lesson Damon has taken to heart.

“I knew that athletics was the way for me to compete in college,” he says. “But from there, I would need a good education to be able to become successful in the business world. So the two work together.”

On the day of his graduation from college, May 10, 1997, Damon moved to Nashville to pursue a musical career, living on the road for 15 years with an average of 175 shows per year and opening for some of the country’s biggest acts, including his high school friend Blake Shelton.     

“Wrestling gave me the confidence to stand on any stage and lay it on the line every night,” Damon observes. “Now I use this confidence to help my clients buy and sell real estate. The sport of wrestling taught me hardcore work ethics and communication. I’m a tough negotiator!”