PREP FOOTBALL: All eyes on Jones
He’s the biggest college recruit at Columbia since Laremy Tunsil and he’s soaking up every minute of it.
With an offer list that currently sits at a whopping 34, all eyes are on receiver TJ Jones as the Tigers get ready for the 2018 season. Fans across the nation are eager to see which school he’ll choose, whether that’s Florida, Miami, Texas A&M or somewhere else.
But what’s for certain as July ends and August begins is that Jones himself still doesn’t know. After wrapping up the first fall practice of his senior year on Monday, Jones said he just wants to enjoy a process that’s been a blessing up until this point.
He admits at times it can be a little overwhelming but he continued to echo what he said all spring — he’s focused on winning a championship at Columbia.
Some days, though, that’s easier said than done.
“Some days I embrace it because I get privileges but some days it gets aggravating so I ignore it a lot,” Jones said. “All my schools want me to come visit and talk to them and call them on the phone and it’’s hard for me to tell them that I can’t make it. I just try to think about Columbia football instead of Florida or Florida State or something like that.”
Jones says he’s begun the process of narrowing down his list of schools to 10. He teased fans on Twitter Sunday night when he tweeted, “Who make top 10 edits? It’s business time.”
But Jones put the brakes on the list after Monday’s practice and said he might not put it out until after the season starts. That didn’t stop schools from calling him though, including two SEC schools that have yet to offer him.
“It’s gotten crazy. It’s been picking up since I said I was going to make a top 10 edit so more schools like Alabama and Auburn have been hitting me up,” Jones said.
Luckily for Jones, he has a coach that’s been through this before. Brian Allen was a star linebacker at Columbia in the 90’s and went on to play at Florida State before being drafted in the third round of the NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams in 2001.
Allen’s advice to Jones has been pretty simple — the faster you narrow down the list, the easier it becomes.
“What’s fair for the teams and what’s fair for him is to shrink that number down,” Allen said. “It’s very difficult to do that with 30-plus. It’s tough to do a true analysis with that many different teams that are out there. My number was five, because at the end of the day you’re going to take five official visits if you choose to take them all. Right now he’ll get this thing narrowed to 10 but maybe by week three or four of the season, he’ll get it down to five so that then I can really hone in on those five with his likes and dislikes to be able to get that number down to the magic number of one.
“We’ve had that conversation and I think he has a good understanding on what he has to do as far as that’s concerned and it’s coming faster than I’m sure he ever imagined that it would come.”
Jones has only taken one official visit up so far and that was to Texas A&M, one of the earliest schools to jump on him. Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher is no stranger to Lake City — he recruited Timmy Jernigan and Trey Marshall from Columbia when he was at Florida State.
Fisher’s relationship with Columbia, as well as his early recruitment of Jones, were some of the reasons why the rising senior chose to visit College Station back in April. That’s automatically put Texas A&M in his top 10.
“I’ve always been a guy that’s understood Jimbo and that he’s going to win games so I just took (my visit) early,” Jones said. “I got a chance to see Texas and they’re going to be in my top 10 too because I’ve been talking to Coach Craig and Jimbo. They want me. He’s familiar with the area and he said he loves Lake City guys so that’s another reason I went up there early.”
As for the rest of his official visits, Jones is leaning towards at least Tennessee and Nebraska. That’s partly due to the fact that Columbia alums Latrell Williams and Michael Williams are at the two schools.
“I already have fellow teammates up there and they’v shown me stuff and it might be a great opportunity to get in with them,” Jones said.
Jones stopped short of naming both schools in his top 10 but he did drop the name of one school that is on the list. That’s Florida, which Jones traveled to on Friday night for the school’s annual Friday Night Lights camp.
That gave Jones the opportunity to meet with several of Florida’s coaches, including head coach Dan Mullen, and he walked away feeling pretty high on the Gators.
“It was a nice camp. I had a great time at Florida,” Jones said. “(Wide receivers) coach (Billy) Gonzalez showed me a couple of new tips as far as running routes and my stance and start. He showed me plays and where I fit in on the offense so it was nice.”
“I feel really good about Florida. I feel welcomed.”
Florida may get one of Jones’ official visits, though with the school being so close to Lake City, he says he may just take an unofficial this fall. Other schools Jones says he’s high on are Miami and Ole Miss, which could also end up on his official list.
Jones said he hasn’t set any schools apart yet but will soon with the help of Allen and his family. It all may seem a lot to a 17-year-old kid but not Jones — he remains level-headed through it all.
“I’m ready to embrace it. There’s no pressure. No pressure,” Jones said.