Sam Jones starred at ThunderRidge High School in Highlands Ranch, CO just south of Denver where as a junior he helped lead the Grizzlies to the 5A state semifinals before falling to eventual champion Valor Christian. Despite the disappointing end to the season, Jones earned First Team All-State honors and picked up his first college football scholarship offer from nearby Colorado State.
At the time, Jones, who was regarded as a four-star prospect and the number 23 offensive tackle recruit in the nation by ESPN and the 11th best offensive tackle in the West region by Scout.com, remembered being elated with the offer and even considered committing early to put an end to his recruitment, but then things began to pick up for him.
Before the start of his senior season, Jones had more than 10 offers, including offers from Arkansas, California, Colorado, Kansas, Oregon, and Washington and was rated as the third best prospect in the state of Colorado, one spot ahead of fellow Sun Devil freshman Kalen Ballage.
“I took an unofficial (visit) here to ASU and that was pretty much the first college that I ever visited besides CSU,” he recently told Devils Digest. “I really liked it and really liked all the coaches and everything. Then my recruiting started to pick up and I got out to more and more schools and I was looking at Oregon real hard.”
After the Grizzlies opened their season against Dakota Ridge, Jones visited Oregon, who along with Colorado and Colorado State, had tabbed him as their top offensive line recruit. Following the visit, Jones admits that he nearly had a change of heart in favor of the Ducks, but after taking some time to re-evaluate his options, realized that Arizona State is where he wanted to be all along.
“I liked Oregon a lot,” he said. “I took my first official visit to Oregon and was pretty close to committing but was like, ‘Man, I want to get out to ASU one more time,’ because I loved it on my unofficial and wanted to check it out one more time and refresh my memory a little bit and I’m definitely glad I did.
“(Oregon’s) got a lot of shiny stuff but at the end of the day, honestly, it just came down to the coaches. The coaching staff here is by far the best one, if you ask me. They’re all great coaches and they all care about their players. They did the best job recruiting me and getting to know me as a person and not just as a football player and that really went a long way for me.”
Jones officially visited Arizona State on October 19th; taking in ASU’s convincing 53-24 thrashing of Washington before committing to the Sun Devils the following week.
“I love it. I definitely made the right choice,” he said. “I was attracted to a lot of the Pac-12 schools that run similar offenses because I’m not a guy who’s trying to get up to 320 pounds in college. That doesn’t sound too appealing to me.
“I like it because I don’t have to gain too much weight or put on any unnecessary weight to play offensive line. I can get out there and play at 295 or 300 pounds and get up and down the field and stay athletic.”
Like many of the other 2014 recruits, Jones reported to Tempe June 14th for the start of summer school and team workouts. However, unlike the rest of his new teammates, Jones also visited Arizona State during his spring break earlier this year so that he could meet with the coaching staff, get familiar with his new surroundings, and watch the team practice during spring ball.
“I just wanted to get out here, see some spring ball, and meet Coach Griswold and get some workouts in so I could get a feel for it,” said Jones. “Honestly, it was just like a vacation for me. I love it down here so spring break in Arizona sounded pretty good to me.”
Now that he’s back on campus permanently, Jones says his first month at ASU has been spent attending summer school, where he’s currently taking three classes and considering a major in Business Communications, and getting his first taste of Coach Griswold’s grueling workout regimen.
“We’ve been in there grinding,” he added. “We lift for about an hour at 6:00 am and then head over to the bubble and do some running for about an hour and a half. I can feel it already. I feel way better. I can run a lot better than before. Running is unbelievable.”
At 6-5 and 295 pounds, Jones estimates that he’s already put on an additional five pounds since he arrived, putting him near his ideal playing weight.
“Griz is the best,” Jones said. “He’ll get you in there and if you follow his program and work hard, you’ll be in good shape. I’ve been making gains on all my lifts and I’m feeling stronger and healthy.”
Arizona State begins its fall camp on August 1st when Jones hopes to impress Offensive Line Coach Chris Thomsen and the Sun Devil coaches in hopes of contending for a spot on the two-deep depth chart in 2014 for what should be one of the top offensive line units in the Pac-12 conference.
The freshman has already had the chance to participate in a handful of player-led practices with his fellow offensive line teammates and now says he’s just waiting to strap on the pads and get to work.
“My goal is to not redshirt but since pads haven’t gone on yet, I really don’t know anything yet,” he said. “I feel like I can compete and as long as I get a shot to compete, that’s all I can ask for.”