Thomas Jones would wake up, crack open a few beers and wonder what was next.
No more practices. No more games. No more locker-room laughs with his teammates. Life without football for the former NFL running back was a scary thought.
"I was very depressed, in this weird space," said Jones, who retired after the 2011 season. "There was this emptiness, almost like you broke up with your girlfriend and then it's like, what do you do? I had never been much of a drinker, but I was waking up in the morning and drinking Coronas. I needed something to get over it.
"For like eight or nine months, it was a weird, weird time for me."
He found his way while working on one of his company's film projects with veteran actor Clifton Powell, who has appeared in several Hollywood hits. Powell saw talent in Jones, and encouraged him to give acting a serious shot.
"Any time someone like that is in your corner," Jones said, "it kind of makes it worth your while to try it."
It was as good a play call as Jones has ever made.
In the three-plus years since he retired, Jones has scored appearances on Showtime's "Shameless" and IFC's "Comedy Bang! Bang!" Then came a breakthrough role on BET's "Being Mary Jane" as Gabrielle Union's love interest. His first day on set was eye-opening: He went to wardrobe looking for his clothes, and there was just a robe and sandals waiting for him.
"I'm a full-time actor," he said. "I'm no longer Thomas Jones, the football player. I've spread my wings, come out of my cocoon. This is who I am now."
Jones, who largely avoided the spotlight during his playing career, sees plenty of similarities between acting and his old career, from reading scripts instead of playbooks to working off emotions. There's plenty of competition, too, just like his football days.
"I've been able to peel back a lot of layers of who I am," said Jones, who splits his time between Los Angeles and Miami. "Acting has really given me a new outlook on life."
Jones hopes his successful career change can serve as an example to young players who are aren't yet planning for their post-football careers — and to former athletes still searching for their next gameplan long after the cheering has stopped.
"I don't think I could have ever seen this for me a few years ago," Jones said. "It's an amazing thing. I'd tell those guys that life is way bigger than the game. You give a lot of yourself to football, but you need to realize that there's a lot more to life out here for you than just football."