GREENVILLE, N.C. — From Tuscon, Arizona to Greenville, N.C., sophomore receivers Isaiah and Cayleb Jones are taking college football by storm.
Separated by upwards of 2,200 miles, Isaiah and Cayleb Jones
are both ranked in the top 25 on college football’s receptions list and play for ranked teams that are just two spots removed from each other.
At the surface, the two brothers appear so much alike with their bright personalities and on-the-field production. But if you delve deeper into the story, you’ll see that their journeys to big-time college football are far from similar.
Isaiah, 19, is a legacy at the No. 18 East Carolina
, where his father, Robert, was a consensus All-American selection at linebacker and led the school to its one and only double-digit win season in 1991.
That was until the 2013 season. As a true freshman, Isaiah Jones
was a Conference USA All-Freshman Team choice with 62 catches, 604 yards and five touchdowns, which were fewer than only Justin Hardy
in all three categories. The Pirates finished the season 10-3 and at the halfway mark of 2014, Jones has already amassed 42 receptions for 478 yards and four touchdowns.
However, Jones’ father wasn’t the only tie he had to ECU. His uncle is an ECU legend, Jeff Blake, who was the quarterback of that 1991 team who went on to have a long NFL career, while Robert Jones won three Super Bowls with the Cowboys.
|Isaiah Jones celebrates after a touchdown.|
“From a very early age, we’ve always been a football family and always been into it,” said Jones, who remembers vividly watching his dad play when he was on the Dolphins and Redskins. “Growing up you just think that’s normal because your daddy plays in the NFL.”
The legacy has continued for the Blake family as well. Torre Blake is a junior on the ECU volleyball team and her older brother, Emory, was a national-champion receiver at Auburn that currently plays for the Rams. Forever intertwined, the Jones and Blake families resided just 10 minutes apart in Austin, Texas.
“We were still really close growing up in that we were all homeschooled, but our dads played for different teams,” Torre Blake said of the relationship between the families. “So a good bit of the time, we were in different states, but we would always visit each other a lot. I always remembered us and the Joneses all the time.”
Coming out of Stephen F. Austin High School, Cayleb Jones, 22, was highly coveted in his home state and became one of the prized players of the Texas Longhorns’ third-ranked recruiting class in 2012.
But while Cayleb had no issues attracting attention from teams, Isaiah was seriously under-recruited. Nobody wanted him in the state of Texas or anywhere else. And when things began to look bleak, his father took action.
Robert Jones sent Isaiah’s highlight tape to his alma mater — specifically to ECU’s fifth-year coach Ruffin McNeill
— and within just a couple hours, the Jones’ family residence heard the phone ring.
“I picked up the phone and it was Coach Ruff,” Isaiah Jones said, “and he says ‘Hey Isaiah, I just sat down with the coaches and we just watched your film. We’re offering you tonight.’”
“At that moment, I broke down. I was in tears.”
Once again, all was well in the Jones household, but it was short-lived. Just more than a month after his younger brother signed at ECU, Cayleb Jones was charged with felony aggravated assault in March 2013 for allegedly hitting and breaking the jaw of a Texas tennis player.
The charges were soon dismissed and reduced to a misdemeanor. However, Jones was ridiculed for his mistake and resented by some of his teammates at Texas and many others surrounding the program.
“I consider him my hero,” Isaiah Jones said of his older brother. “Some people began to doubt him, lose faith in him, and walk away from him as friends. It was heart breaking to watch him go through this stuff and seeing my brother bashed nationally and on so many news articles.”
|Cayleb Jones scores one of his six touchdowns this season. .|
|(J and L Photography/ Getty Images)|
It was a difficult time for Cayleb — and the Jones family — that eventually led to his decision to transfer elsewhere. ECU was the ideal destination with Isaiah already enrolled and his father’s history at the school, and Cayleb wanted to be a part of it.
Unfortunately for him and the Pirates, though, it was not to be. With little explanation from the school, Cayleb Jones was not admitted to ECU and soon after, he announced his transfer to Arizona.
Jones sat out the 2013 season due to NCAA transfer rules, but has already stepped and made tremendous contributions through six games of this year. He leads the 16th ranked Wildcats in receptions (39), receiving yards (592) and touchdown caches (6).
“He made an honest mistake and to see how well he has done and flourished, it’s inspiring. It’s a motivation factor for me and I couldn’t be any prouder of him,” said Isaiah Jones, who admits that he often times thinks what it would have been like to play alongside Cayleb. “You always think what if and you dream, but I probably wouldn’t write it any other way.”
Despite the distance, Robert and Maneesha Jones can still be found at either Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium or Arizona Stadium on most Saturdays.
“They’ve got some frequent flier miles,” said McNeill.