"The most recent offers were Mississippi State and Missouri, two top-ranked SEC schools,” he said. "I started talking to each before my South Carolina visit. With Terry Beckner coming into Missouri, I feel like that could be a great defensive line."
Many of Jones’ early offers came from the Big Ten. Jones has respect for programs in both the Big Ten and the SEC, though, especially after the conference’s success during the bowl season.
"I feel like the Big Ten is a great conference,” he said. "They proved themselves in the bowl games for the most part. They say the SEC is the best conference, and I feel like it is, but the Big Ten schools beat them in bowl games, so it’s debateable. They’re both great conferences.
Illinois was one of the first programs to really believe in Jones as a prospect, and he visited earlier this year.
"It was great,” he said. "I went to a basketball game and spent time with the coaches. I watched them play Iowa and had a great experience and a great time."
Since that visit, Illinois replaced former defensive line coach Greg Colby with new coach Mike Phair, and Phair made it a point to reach out to Jones not long after taking the job.
"I got to talk to him a bit,” he said. "I want to go down and see him and meet him face to face. We’ve been in conversation on twitter and talking a few times a week."
Jones hopes to meet the new Illinois DL coach in person in the very near future, as he plans to get to an Illinois spring practice soon.
"I’m hoping to get down there during my spring break,” he said. "I want to get down there soon."
Illinois being the first school to offer isn’t something that Jones will soon forget. He recollected how he earned his first offer from the Illini.
"I mean going into my sophomore year, I really didn’t have any offers or anything,” he said. "I went to camps and my names started getting out there. Illinois offered me first, and I’ve always known them as a good program. I went to their camp, performed well, and they offered me."
That first offer had a big impact on Jones. It wasn’t just validation for his hard work. It meant a chance to play at a school he has long followed.
"It’s like a dream, you know,” he said. "When you get your first offer it’s like “wow”. I can play at this school now and play at the school you’ve always wanted to play at."
Jones has the frame to play either defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme or play either nose tackle or defensive end in a 3-4 base defense. Some programs project him to different positions, but each knows where they would like him to end up.
"Michigan was talking about putting me at the nose tackle spot,” he said. "I haven’t gotten much interest in the way of a defensive end. Michigan said they’re running a 3-4, so they’d put me at nose."
Jones isn’t sure about when he will make his college decision yet. He knows the benefits of getting it out of the way before his senior season, but doesn’t want to rush the process if he isn’t prepared to make the call by the end of August.
"I’ve been debating that,” Jones said of the decision. "Sometimes I think about deciding before the season so I don’t have to worry about it and I can perform at my best during my senior season. But sometimes I don’t know if I can make the right decision that early. I may just wait it out."
Jones knows what he wants in a college. He also knows that sometimes schools make staff changes, so his comfort level with a school will be just as important as his comfort level with the coaches recruiting him.
"Obviously academics come first,” Jones said. "Relationships with the coaches and players and feeling comfortable with where I’m at. You never know what happens in the game of football, so I want to be comfortable with the school, too."
Those relationships will mean a lot when he goes to make a decision, and some programs and coaches have already done well of establishing those relationships with the star defender.
Jones said he has good relationships with "Coach Adams at South Carolina. Coach Burton at Michigan State. I have a really good relationship with Coach Beckman. There are a few coaches that stand out. Coach Ash at Ohio State. I have a good relationship with most of the coaches I talk to."