Entering 2017, Jonathan Hess sat at zero scholarship offers despite coming off of a solid junior season as a Vestavia Hills (Ala.) defender. Playing at 6-foot-5, 205 pounds between safety and linebacker, most of his action came in space and in the passing game.
Since the season, he has bulked up to 220 pounds and maintained his athleticism, making college programs project him anywhere from defensive back to defensive end. The possibilities have been enough to garner a pair of Power 5 extensions from Syracuse and Wake Forest along with well over a dozen additional FBS offers in.
"First of all, it's a blessing," Hess said. "My trainer and my coaches knew it would happen, we knew I had to stay focused and keep working hard and being the best player I can be.
"Once I got that first offer, a few days before signing day, from Southern Miss..."
It was then off to the races for one of the most versatile prospects in the state of Alabama, now three-stars on Scout. More Power 5 extensions could soon push the offer list north of two dozen. The upcoming camp season will likely be a major part of the process.
"I have a lot of interest from Power 5 schools, but they haven't pulled the trigger," he said. "Illinois told me they're trying to figure out where to play me. Northwestern said I can play a bunch of spots for them. Mississippi State wants me to come to camp, and Ole Miss."
Hess' build up to 222 pounds, where he reported last week, has had to do with a combination of increased weight room activity and a lack of practice reps this spring. He had surgery on his labrum in the offseason and the Vestavia Hills policy is to work without contact the following spring. It also ended his basketball season though he has been cleared, medically.
Still, the rising senior has learned he will be showcased more during the 2017 on offense and defense, furthering his stock as one of the state's top athletes.
"I'm going to play some wide receiver this year, situational stuff," Hess said. "I'm probably going to get some action when we go two tight ends to block some and they'll split me out to run fades. On defense, I'm a hybrid guy between linebacker at safety, so I'm not in the box a lot. Some people want me to play D-end for pass-rush stuff. I'll be doing a lot more rushing the passer this year. We're changing our defense.
"Playing in space has helped me a lot, a lot of teams tell me they like me because I can cover in space and that I can move. I started out playing free safety my sophomore year before moving to strong (as a junior), so that's definitely helped me out a lot."
LSU and Ole Miss represent the scholarship offers Hess covets most at this time, though there is no rush in his search for the right school among dozens.
"Wherever I go I feel like I'm going to end up starting," he said. "I love working to achieve stuff. Also somewhere I feel confident to get to the next level after college."
Whether at safety, linebacker, defensive end, wide receiver or tight end, expect Hess to make a splash this summer at a camp near you.