With the final high school football season of his career squarely in his rearview mirror Orlando (Fla.) Oak Ridge linebacker Jonathan Jones has shifted all of his athletic focus to his recruitment. Finishing out his official visits is the next item agenda.
“I took (trips to) Notre Dame and Syracuse,” said Jones. “Those are the only two I’ve taken so far. Last week I actually the Syracuse visit and it went pretty well. I have Michigan the second weekend in December, and in January I have Duke."
The visit to Syracuse took place before the firing of now former Orange coach Scott Shafer. That puts the fledgling ACC program in limbo with Jones. Notre Dame, on the other hand, is on very firm footing after his visit there.
“It definitely moved them up,” said Jones. “It definitely evened up the playing field. I had an alright relationship with Notre Dame (before the visit), but at the time I didn’t know how much they liked me and how much they wanted me. Going up there they really explained a lot. I really got to sit with the coaching staff and see what all they had to offer. It really opened up my eyes more to Notre Dame. And it’s Notre Dame also, so it’s just a great school. And my dad also really likes Notre Dame.”
Dad’s appreciation for Notre Dame runs counter his prior mention of his preference for warm weather options. According to the younger Jones his dad has cooled on that being a major criterion.
“He should be fine,” Jones said laughingly. “I was up at Syracuse in November and it was just starting to get a little cold. I’ll take the cold over the heat any day. I haven’t really experienced cold where it’s crazy blizzard type weather, but I’m pretty sure I’ll get used to it. I deal with weather here in the 100s and I hate it. I’ll take that other extreme compared to the weather down here any day.”
That’s music to the ears of Michigan’s coaching staff. The Wolverines were frontrunners in this race for much of Jones’ recruitment, and he still holds them in very high regard.
“They’re still right up there,” said Jones. “I have nothing but love for them. It’s just with me going on officials other teams have started to show their faces a lot more often. They’re real good teams. Honestly it’s just even now. I don’t really have a leader over anybody. It’s just like a head to head battle right now and it’ going to take a lot more prayer and a lot more evaluation.”
One factor he has already evaluated pretty thoroughly is the opportunity for early playing time.
“I think (the chance to play immediately) is all equal except when it comes to Notre Dame Michigan… that’s honestly my top two right now,” Jones admitted. “And then Duke also. Duke I think I’ll probably have a better chance at starting. Notre Dame and Michigan will give me chances (to play right away) most definitely. It would probably be a little bit more of a fight but, it would be worth it. Of course they aren’t going to give it to me… and Duke wouldn’t just give it to me either. I’d have to earn it. But realistically we’re talking about Notre Dame and Michigan. It would probably be a little bit more of a challenge to get into that starting lineup. They’re all saying they would give me the opportunity. I don’t want (to be given) anything. If I’m not playing up to the ability to start then don’t start me.”
That’s the kind of honest rapport Jones hopes to have with his future coach. Assessing the strength of those connections is one of his top priorities during his visits.
“Right now it’s just seeing how I feel with the coaches and the type of relationship I’m getting with them,” Jones said. “Also how their players are. I’m not going to say what college I went to, but during the summer I went up to a college and just the atmosphere there… the players weren’t friendly. They didn’t really want to be there. So how the players feel about it and how the vibe is with the coaches (will be evaluated). And before I go there I ask God to really talk to me. Just try to listen to him and see how he feels about the school also.”
The Michigan coaching staff is working overtime to make sure Jones feels that connection with them. They recently celebrated the talented youngster’s birthday with a cake… a gesture that definitely made its mark.
“That was crazy,” said Jones. “Coach Durkin had hit me up to say ‘happy birthday’ and ‘we’ve got a little surprise for you later on.’ I didn’t know what to expect. Then Coach Harbaugh (direct messaged) me a picture and I was just like, ‘wow, that’s crazy.’ It was real creative. It’s about the small things sometime. Everybody sent me a happy birthdays. I got pictures from other colleges and I was thankful for those too. They were some nice edits from other colleges. But to go out of their way and get me a cake, then to all sit down and wish me a happy birthday, it looked like it was really from the heart. They took some time out for that. That was really cool."
“That just tells you they really want you and really care about you. That’s not really an everyday thing that they do for everybody. It’s not like it was made through the computer. They actually went, got a cake, and at down and ate it in honor of my 18th birthday. It says a lot.”
The Wolverines will try to impress Jones even more on his official visit, but even if they’re successful in blowing him away he warns to not expect to hear word of a decision until signing day.
“Honestly If I do commit nobody is really going to know,” he said. “It probably would be a silent commit. I really want to give back to my school. I really want this to be a special thing at my school where they’ll be the first people to know Oak Ridge has really pushed me forward and set me up to do great things so I would want my school to know where I’m going first to show the love.”