Coach Reggie Maddox is the defensive coordinator at Middleton and he has a big hand in the process for Jones. In four years at Middleton and nine years as a high school coach, Maddox has had the opportunity to coach some of the best high school players in the state of Florida. He says that Jones stands out more than any player he has coached.
"I have coached for nine years and I have coached the likes of Mike Williams, Reche Caldwell, Keron Gordon at LSU, and OJ Murdock," Maddox started. "A.J. is the most athletic player that I have ever coached. His athletic skills are without comparison to all of these guys. I told his parents as a ninth grader he was the best looking ninth grade football player I had ever seen and then he became the best I have ever had the opportunity to coach."
His athletic ability makes him the picture of versatility. He could play and excel at many positions but Maddox says linebacker is where he stands the best chance to play to his potential.
"He played both ways for us," he said. "Surprisingly he played wide receiver for us this year. We came to a camp at the University of Florida and he had to play receiver there. He showed us he could do it there so he started at receiver and linebacker for us.
"He is definitely a linebacker (at the next level). You want to keep this kid as close to the ball as you can. He can cover any back out of the backfield. You can move him over the tight end if you want. The quickness of his first step allows him to be able to play close to the ball and take on linemen. He doesn't have to take on a lot of blocks because he is beating those blocks to the play."
But it isn't just athletic skills that make A.J. Jones stand out for Coach Maddox. Off the field, Jones is a solid citizen and a good student, the kind of kid that every coach and parent hopes for.
"He is a great young man with a 3.0 GPA," Maddox said. "He has a lot of manners. I had an opportunity to work with his mom and dad so I have known him for a long time. Just to watch the way in which he carries himself in the school and in the community, it is a pleasure to see a young man that carries himself the way that A.J. does."
Coach Maddox spent a great amount of time with both A.J. and his parents over the last few years. The bond between all of them has allowed Maddox to play a key role in his blossoming into a student-athlete ready for big time football.
"I spoke with A.J.'s family on Monday and they entrusted me to help bring this young man along," he said. "Whenever they needed to they could call me and ask about what he was up to. I think when you have that relationship with a coach it works out well for the parents. They are able to lean on me a little bit. We can get to the heart of the kids. We spend so much time over four years that we become a part of the family. As I sat down with the family on Monday I just weighed in from a coaching aspect I just told them the things they needed to know about each school and how to weigh those things."
It's down to two schools for A.J. when he takes his seat on the set of Countdown to Signing Day --- Alabama and Florida. Maddox talked a little bit about what separated Florida and Alabama from the other schools on A.J.'s list.
"He is down to Florida and Alabama," Maddox said. "I know he enjoyed the visits to Ohio State, LSU, and Southern Cal. It's hard not to enjoy the trips but Alabama became more than just enjoying a trip.
"Florida being so close to home … we have camped there four or five times as a high school. Both have their plusses and neither have minuses. The only thing about Alabama is it's a little farther away from home. AJ went to the LSU-Alabama game and it was a big time affair. It rivaled The Swamp but it wasn't the Swamp, if you know what I mean. Coach Dave Ungerer is a great recruiter for the University of Alabama. If you look at it, a lot of kids that have already committed to Florida, they were in a battle with Alabama … Brandon Spikes, and Tim Tebow. There is a reason for that."
And so tonight is the big night when Gator fans and Tide fans will get to see where A.J. Jones will spend the next several years of his collegiate life. Wherever it is, the parents and Coach Maddox will certainly continue to be very proud of a great young student-athlete.
Stay tuned to Gator Country for the latest on his announcement on Countdown to Signing Day which is broadcast on Fox Sports Network/Sun Sports TV. We'll have an interview with A.J. available immediately after his announcement.