By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Shane Marshall, Kurt Johnson & Spanish Fork High senior Nicholas Runolfson
What happens when one of the state’s most dynamic and talented three-sport athletes has his most difficult sports moment go viral on YouTube? When that athlete is Spanish Fork’s Jason Money, it reveals the character within him.
Money’s mistake came on a football field at Provo High School in a state tournament play-in game against rival Maple Mountain. Before 24 hours had passed, national networks had picked up the video and a young man who was used to receiving positive press was suddenly thrust into the negative side of a media feeding frenzy.
Fortunately, Jason Money isn’t your ordinary high school quarterback. The senior leaned on his faith and his friends and turned what could have been a huge negative into a fantastic growth opportunity.
“It’s really given me a new perspective on things,” Money said, looking back at that October night. “Before, I knew it wasn’t all about sports and I knew it was only a game, but those relationships you have, it’s more about who you are than what you do and it really is so much more than the game. It’s about what you do off the field. I know it’s important what you do on the field, but the kind of person you are off and the kind of character that you have kind of shows through in those tough times.”
Instead of focusing on those making light of his experience, Money actually was more quick to notice those who jumped up to have his back.
“I found out there’s a lot of great people out there,” Money said. “There’s those that didn’t know, that’s granted, but everyone I knew was so nice, so supportive, so caring and that kind of person that I was trying to be all those years, they really were the best examples to me, the way the treated me and the way they cared for me those few weeks after the game.”
Money did not have time to look back and worry about things he could not change. Next up was a role on the Spanish Fork basketball team and then on to a state-championship run with the Dons’ baseball team. He has always been a busy guy, working to stay on top of his three sports, and even his summers have been filled with activity.
“I started at quarterback as a sophomore, so that’s kind of been my main focus,” Money said. “I put the most time into that. Baseball in Spanish Fork is year-round. You’re hitting in winter in the mornings and basketball, you’re trying to squeeze in open gyms. You’re really trying to get in all three.
“(During the summer) football practice in the morning, summer baseball games at night and I do basketball camps during the summer. It keeps you busy. It’s a lot of fun. When I had the possibility of starting as a sophomore, I started putting a lot of time and energy into football. That was my main focus, and still is.”
Especially for Athletes
Along the way, Money starting training with Dustin Smith at Quarterback Elite, and was there during the creation of Smith’s other passion, Especially for Athletes, a program that encourages high school athletes to make a difference in the schools and in their communities.
“It started (three or four years ago) after a workout, before it even had a name, Dustin was talking to some guys, me and a few other quarterbacks he worked out with, just talking to us about the importance athletes have, and more important, quarterbacks have in the influence they have at school and around their peers,” Money said. “It really just was an idea at that point and it really hadn’t gone forward with anything but you could tell he was passionate about it, and it’s grown since then.
“Since buying into the program, off of those discussions after workouts, it’s kind of molded my high school life, my friends and my social status, just be nice to everyone and make friends with everyone. It means a lot to them, but you just never know. It’s a two-way street. You never know when you’re going to make a mistake and you have the whole school behind your back. It really means a lot to have all that backing and have all those friends, even if you think you’re doing good for them, they’re doing a lot of good for you as well.”
It’s not that Money wasn’t a nice guy before he opened his eyes because of his participation in the E4A program, but something Smith asked him on one occasion really changed his outlook on sports and life.
“It kind of opened my eyes,” Money said. “I remember one time it clicked was when he said ‘Do you think your God cares if you throw for five touchdowns on Friday night,’ and I thought for a sec and I said ‘Well I know he cares about me but I don’t really know if he cares about that.’ He said, ‘You think he cares if you have a certain social status because of your athletic abilities and you do nothing with them.’ And I think he does care about that. It makes sense.”
The three-sport star, who will serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints before he moves on to the University of Utah, where he will have preferred walk-on status, has made the goal to ‘compete without contempt’ a main focus.
Compete Without Contempt
“Especially in the region we play in, we play against all the kids I’ve known my whole life and a lot of kids I’ve worked out with,” Money said. “If you’re a jerk on the field, then you’re going to be a jerk off the field. You can be competitive as heck and you can still be a nice guy.
“Now, I’ve graduated and high school’s over. Those sports mean nothing, but if I see a kid at Macey’s who I was maybe a jerk to on the field, or maybe I did a dance over him when I was on the football field, it makes you feel uncomfortable and I’m sure it makes him feel the same way. Don’t hate your competitor, because who knows, one day you’re probably going to have a church calling with him or you’re going to be working for him, or who knows what’s going to happen. Don’t burn any bridges through sports because it’s not worth it.”
Not that Money sees himself as having arrived in that area of his life or his game. It’s something with which he still struggles, but which he is working to get better.
“It’s easy to let it happen,” Money said. “They kind of let their emotions get the best of them. I’ve let that happen to me plenty of times. There are kids who act like that on the field and you see them off the field, and you can tell they kind of feel embarrassed about it because that’s not who they really are. They just kind of let their emotions get in the way.”
The ending of his final sports season at Spanish Fork High put a nice exclamation point on Money’s high school career. The Dons were once again on the same field with that rival, Maple Mountain, but this time it was a baseball diamond, and this time the end result was a Spanish Fork state title.
“It was fun. It was awesome,” Money said. ‘It seemed like a lot of practices and a lot of hard years and a lot of failures paid off for one victory and it was so sweet. Those guys are all my best friends. In Spanish Fork, you play baseball since you’re in diapers and we’ve been playing together all year, every year. Growing up we played on two different teams and in ninth grade we came together, so we’ve just been playing together every year.”
There is some level of pressure when it comes to putting on that Dons’ baseball jersey, but Money says it was a good kind of pressure.
“I think it’s a positive pressure,” he said. “When you put on that jersey you’re expected to win and you’re expected to play tough baseball even if you might not have the most dudes or the most Gatorade players of the year. You’re just expected to win and it’s fun to be on a team like that.”
This year, the Spanish Fork baseball team was able to share that special day with the school’s softball team, as both beat Maple Mountain in state championship battles on the same day.
“(It was) so awesome,” Money said. “I’m so happy for those guys. They’re a great group of girls and they work hard and they could probably beat us on the diamond if we played a game. They’re a bunch of great athletes. It just seems like Spanish Fork traditionally, when one wins it, they both have to win it.”
High School Experience
Sports stardom aside, Money looks back on his high school years fondly. His father’s family moved to Payson when his dad was about 12, and his mother was also raised in Payson before the couple settled in Spanish Fork to raise a family. Money feels the Spanish Fork area and its high school has been very good to him.
“It’s a great place to go,” Money said. “Honestly, I don’t know what it’s like at other high schools, but I don’t know how it could get any better than going to Spanish Fork. Just the way kids treat each other. We hear about all those bullies and all those rude kids, all those high school stereotypes, but I really feel like that’s been eliminated and it just seems like everyone really is on each other’s team. That was our school motto this year – ‘We’re on each other’s team.’ I feel like we really were all friends and that was an awesome place to go to high school.”
His home for the next two years will be in Ecuador, as he has been called to serve in the Ecuador Guayaquil Mission. After that, it’s on to Salt Lake City, where he is hoping to find a home as a quarterback for the Utes.
With his success as both a runner and a passer, Money would qualify under the definition of a dual-threat quarterback. He doesn’t care what you call it, but it’s just the way he plays the game.
“It just means you can play football the fun way,” Money said. “It means if you have coaches who give you the option to run it, you get to turn into a running back and run the ball and read some defensive ends and make some plays, or when you coach lets you pass, you can read some defenses and make some shots down the field.”
Is it possible he could end up playing a different position in college? Money certainly knows that’s a possibility but he’s going in with a plan.
“I just want to continue competing,” Money said. “Right now, I’m going in there as a quarterback and that’s what I’d like to play, but I’m open to play any position, whatever they want me to do. I’m just excited to have the chance to play again.
“They recruited me throughout all of high school, kind of moderately, and then after they came to the school and I talked to them. They had a preferred walk-on night and I went to it and was kind of sold, so I’m going to be a preferred walk-on when I get back. When I get back, it’s going to be a good situation for quarterbacks. They’re going to have guys leaving and hopefully I’ll have a good shot.”
At the moment, Money’s plan is to study pre-med or pre-dental. He’s leaning towards a career as a dentist. Whether it’s athletics or academics, Money’s education continues and he is still learning a lot about himself.
“Probably the biggest thing I’ve learned is that you’ll get what you work for and not what you wish for,” Money said. “There’s a lot of kids that wish for greatness and there’s a lot of kids that wish to be a good friend to people, but really it’s hard work and it takes a conscious effort every day to be the best person you can be.
“I’m not saying I did that, because it’s hard and I’m not perfect and I make tons of mistakes, but I’ve just learned that if you’re going to do it, give it your all and don’t hold any back because you’re only going to get one shot. That’s what it really comes down to.”