How two friends in two different fields came together to make a big difference

She’s Chelsea Phillips ’15, the head of her own boutique public relations firm. He’s Jonathan Jones ’15, cornerback for the New England Patriots and a two-time Super Bowl champion. Their friendship began at Auburn, but now it’s connecting their professional careers like never before. Auburn Magazine sat down with the longtime friends to see what brought them together and how their careers continue to grow.

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Auburn Magazine: How did you two first meet? Did you know each other before?

Chelsea Phillips: We met at Auburn and became really close friends…was that our junior year? We both had a class in Lowder and when we had some little break time, we would go in there and get some coffee and just talk about life. We’re both from Georgia, but prior to Auburn we didn’t know each other.

Jonathan Jones: It was definitely outside between classes and just having conversations at the Starbucks at Lowder about the future. Kind of what we wanted out of life. My plans of wanting to be in the NFL. Her plans wanting to work in PR. Just conversations like that over and over.

AM: What is the motivation behind the Jonathan Jones Next Step Foundation?

JJ: It’s focused around youth, just the next step in life. I feel like everyone gets to a point where they need direction and mentorship. They need someone to help them move to the next step. A lot of people have goals and ambitions—they just need help getting on that next path and that next step.

“Not everyone is going to score touchdowns on Sunday, but they can score touchdowns in life. Being good parents, being good citizens, things like that are what my foundation is based on.”

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AM: When did you start working together professionally?

JJ: For me, my head was spinning. My first couple of years, I was undrafted. Football was my main focus. Last year, I finally got to that place in my career where I had a break and was kind of like, “what is Jonathan Jones beyond football?” I wanted to start my own foundation and go on that path. My first contact I reached out to was Chelsea. I was like “hey, these are some ideas. I’ve got a lot going on in my head and I need someone to facilitate that because football just takes up this large portion of my life.” There’s so much more that I still want to do, that we are doing. It just started from that.

CP: Jon had been playing in New England for I think two or three years at that point, and I would just call and check in. He was, like, “Sis, you haven’t even come to a game,” so I went to Boston…we didn’t really even have the conversation then, but in February 2019 we talked about it. Jon reached out. He said “I’m thinking about having a football camp this year; I want you to plan it.” And I was, like, OK. All those Auburn conversations had manifested, and here we are.

AM: Chelsea, that’s similar to your “Beyond the Jersey” project, right? 

CP: My whole goal with that series is to highlight what the athletes are doing outside the field. It’ll probably launch the first part of 2021. It was kind of inspired by the comment made toward LeBron James, “shut up and dribble.” We see a lot of that nowadays—people want athletes to be quiet, they don’t want them to have an opinion, and they just want them to shut up and play.

There are so many amazing people doing so many amazing things, but a lot of times, the only things people are focused on is what they do on Sunday, or Monday or Thursday. I think it’s a cool way to highlight what they’re doing outside of football.

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AM: What makes your friendship translate to work so successfully?

JJ: When you think of PR, you want someone who knows you on a personal level. Who understands your personal vision. When I tell Chelsea I want to do this, she sees it the way I would like to see it. Having someone who’s familiar with me and knows how I see things, how I want things to be done, that’s the first part of your relationship: knowing your client.

CP: It’s cool to know him on that personal level and not just strictly business. Every time we talk, it’s not just “hey Jonathan, what do we need to do?” Our foundation is “hey, how’s [your daughter] Skylar doing? How’s your mom doing?” It’s cool to have that friendship component of the business as well.

What was it like starting the Super Bowl, preparing and winning?

JJ: That was crazy. The week before, I played primarily corner in the AFC Championship game. Then the coaches came to me about a week before the Super Bowl and were like ‘hey, how do you feel like playing safety?’ I’m like, ‘I’ve never done it before, but if it’ll help us win, I’m down to do it.’

Just to be out there contributing, competing, coming back [after] missing the Super Bowl before with an injury…it’s not like you’re going to go the Super Bowl every year, so just having that opportunity to be right back after watching my teammates go out and compete but come up short. That year, having the opportunity to affect it and be out there, it meant so much to me.

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AM: Do you have any favorite memories of working together?

CP: My favorite memory is our first event—I don’t know if Jonathan even knows this—but I was so nervous. I wanted everything to go off without a hitch. We had a football camp and his agent was there and he said, “I’ve never seen a camp perform this well.” He’s been an agent now for 20-plus years and he’s, like, “this went off without a hitch. It seemed like a five-year camp to me.” And that was really rewarding to hear him say that.

How do you go from being undrafted to playing in the NFL?

JJ: That was my whole focus, making sure I had a job, just trying to prove my worth. Coming in undrafted, day in and day out, just proving yourself, continuing to earn your job. Not saying it’s not that way as much [once] you become a veteran, but you’ve kind of solidified yourself in certain ways—people already know what you can do in this league. [It’s] hard, though, going undrafted; you don’t have any guarantees, so you’re just working from the bottom.

Your team has won two Super bowls and been to three, that’s got to be pretty sweet

JJ: That’s life changing [laughs]. You come in your rookie year, go to the Super Bowl versus your hometown team, that’s amazing. You win that, come back the second year, go to the Super Bowl…I got hurt in the playoffs, that was a tough one to sit out. Then that third year, coming back, starting, being a pivotal person on the defense and the team, getting that start and winning the super bowl again, it’s been a crazy journey. You take it step by step and day by day.

AM: What projects are you working on next?

JJ: Right now, we have social justice reform that we’re doing with the team, so I put my attention toward that. We felt that as the “patriots” of New England, we had an extreme platform, and just being able to use that for so many things outside of football kind of just goes back to that “Beyond the Jersey” topic—we step off the football field and we still have the same impact that we have on Sundays.

What’s it like living and training in the middle of the Pandemic?

JJ: It’s been different. I’ve had some experience knowing what an offseason should look like, trying to stay on that same schedule and routine, but it’s been different.

When it first started, once everything shut down, I was trying to assemble a home gym to keep the workouts going. That was frantic, weights were sold out everywhere. People were trying to find something to do and stay safe and stay healthy, but at the same time knowing the season was hopefully going to take place, so still training as though things were going to be the same.

Once we got to camp, everything became normal a little bit. You’re back with the teammates, you’re back with the training [schedule]. We didn’t have a preseason, which was different, kind of hurt a lot of the younger guys, but the older guys definitely knew what to expect.

Chelsea, how has your public relations work been affected by the Pandemic?

CP: I actually balance two careers, I’m in insurance as well. That’s been very busy—a lot of people are now seeing the importance of having life insurance.

As far as the sports PR side goes, it’s kind of just thinking of ways to get creative to keep Jonathan’s name at the forefront, because of course we want to make sure he gets the recognition [he deserves] off the field. That was always my goal when it came to working with professional athletes—they’re so much bigger than the person they are on the field, they have personalities outside [the game] as well, so just thinking of creative ways to make sure we’re keeping him relevant, for lack of a better word, off the football field.

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Jonathan, what is it like playing with new quarterback Cam Newton?

JJ: It’s definitely different than Tom Brady. He brings a little piece of the south back up north and it’s definitely, uh, a little bit refreshing [laughs].

Having someone back from home, obviously another Georgia native and Auburn alum, he brings great energy, he’s been a great leader, just earning the trust of the locker room every day. Having a former MVP and someone who knows the league in and out, just to be here to lead this team, he’s done such a good job so far and I wish him nothing but continued success.

It’s completely different — different offense, different team without Tom, but one thing about the coaching staff, [OC Josh McDaniels] will find a way to get the most out of his players and having Cam, with his skillset and abilities, those guys are going to do phenomenal things on offense.

Chelsea, what’s it like working in Public Relations and achieving the first stage of your dream?

CP: It’s definitely exactly what I thought it would be. As far as representing clients, taking what I Iearned in class, writing a press releases when it’s time to get the media out to events. I’m glad I’m able to use my degree—I joke with my parents that in my first 3.5 years of working in the family insurance business, I kind of didn’t need to go to college, so it’s cool to use the things I learned in college and to apply them here.

It’s cool because people have reached out to me, younger girls who find me off social media, find me off hashtags, ‘oh my gosh you’re in sports PR, that’s always what I wanted to do…’— I just to talk to them about the importance of networking.  I always say it didn’t just fall in my lap, I used to tell Jonathan this is what I wanted to do, I put it on social media, “this is what I want to do” this is my desire, so just teaching and coaching younger women [about] what it’s like, what to look for, whatever their end-goal is.

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“Not everyone is going to score touchdowns on Sunday, but they can score touchdowns in life. Being good parents, being good citizens, things like that are what my foundation is based on.”

How do you make time for working together during the regular season?

 CP: Tuesdays are typically Jonathan’s off days, and I know he said he wanted to give back to the community up in Boston, so I was like ‘OK, just explain what it is you want to do.’ My role, my responsibility, is to find the organization, make contact, make media contacts, things of that nature, and just kind of plan it out.

Jonathan is obviously the brain [and] the financial piece behind it, but I plan through logistics and set everything up and say ‘hey, OK we have this at this time on this day’ and we make it roll from there. We play well off each other’s schedules in my opinion.

JJ: People like Chelsea are extremely important for me because, we have a million things going through our heads each week. A lot of things are important, but Coach [Belichick] always says ‘it’s not about the game on Sunday.” You’re battling that mindset with work because you have to be present, you have to have your emotions, your mental and your physical locked in to have success on the football field.

But at the same time, I have so many ideas and things I want to do in my head. Having someone that I can have a conversation with and say ‘hey, this is just what I’m thinking, I don’t know how it’s possible or how we can get it done, but this is what I’m thinking, can you help me get this done?’ That is extremely important because having someone bring those thoughts together takes some weight off my shoulders.