It was 4:44 p.m. Friday when Ryan Jones realized he had a missed call and voicemail on his phone from his former professor, friend and ESPN freelancer Steve Johnson.
Without hesitation, Jones, a 23-year-old UF journalism senior, called Johnson, who laid down the plan to Jones, asking him to photograph Notre Dame football player Manti Te’o during ESPN’s exclusive interview in Bradenton — the first interview since Deadspin published its story about his “girlfriend hoax.”
Within 15 minutes, Jones was on the road with a two-and-a-half hour drive to Bradenton, armed with a Nikon D600 and two lenses.
Jones entered the meeting at 8 p.m. with ESPN reporter Jeremy Schaap and shook hands with Te’o and his consultant at the IMG academy, a private training institute. A few minutes into the interview and only three pictures taken, Jones heard Te’o nervously ask if he was going to be shooting the whole time. It was his cue to leave.
After almost two hours, Jones was invited to come back into the interview. He took 133 pictures.
After the interview, ESPN producer Shawn Fitzgerald ordered three boxes of pizza. He gave a box of pepperoni pizza to Jones, who shared a slice with Te’o. The two enjoyed their pizza in a conference room while watching the ESPN broadcast on a TV, which was being taped across the street.
After the pizza, Jones headed back to Gainesville. He arrived at 4:30 a.m. after a nap in a Walgreens parking lot.
Jones, who was a student in Johnson’s visual journalism class in the Fall, worked with Johnson at the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl in December. Johnson, who was in Boston Friday night on vacation, said he chose Jones because he was independent .
“[Jones] was in my class last semester, and he kicked butt,” Johnson said.
Since Friday night, Jones’ pictures have appeared on about 20 websites, including Sports Illustrated, The New York Times and The Huffington Post.
Jones wrote about his experience on his blog, Ryan Jones Photography, at about midnight Monday. With a little help from a friend, Jones’ Twitter followers jumped from 30 to 100, and his blog’s views began to skyrocket to the thousands.
“I’ve gotten a lot of love from fellow photographers and journalists,” Jones said.
Contact Colleen Wright at [email protected].