“Ryan has a lot of potential,” Ardrey Kell head coach Adam Hastings said. “He’s a big-bodied receiver, who also has a lot of great natural instincts as a safety. He does a great job of getting the ball – especially away from his body. And he runs really good routes right now – that’s the one thing that’s helped him. I’ve been really, really pleased with how he’s taken on the offense and how he’s grasped the offense. He makes mistakes every now and then, but you know when the ball is in his hands he’s going to make a big play.”
For the junior varsity squad last season, Jones started at middle linebacker.
“We knew he was going to be a special player and we knew his expectations were going to be high as a sophomore, so we wanted to put him in a tough position to see how he’d react to it,” Hastings said. “And he did great job. And he was a player that last year we really thought about bringing up [to varsity] a lot, but we didn’t want to stymie his progression as a player.”
Jones, now a sophomore, has been promoted to varsity where he’ll play both wide receiver and safety, as well as contribute on special teams. To begin off the season, he’ll start on offense, but rotate in on defense. Depending on how he responds and Ardrey Kell’s need, his defensive workload could eventually expand to starter status.
“We’re going to put a lot of on his plate,” Hastings said. “We’re going to put as much as he can take... We’re expecting him to not act like a sophomore. We’re expecting him to act like he’s been there before.”
Despite not seeing a snap on the varsity level, Jones has been offered by Clemson and NC State.
“Five years ago, I’d be like, ‘This never happens,’” Hastings said. “But the way recruiting is, it’s such an animal now and it starts so early. People are trying to project and they’re trying to get on players early, because it’s all about who can get on a player early so that you get a chance at him… I think you can watch him play and see his potential.”
In addition to the two aforementioned schools, Jones is fielding significant interest from Duke, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Most of his interest stems from performances at camps.
“When he went to Clemson [for a camp], he was obviously under the radar and just blew it out,” Hastings said. “They loved him.”
In addition to Clemson, Jones has camped at Duke, UNC, and NC State. The most recent was the Tar Heels’ July camp where Jones was tutored by primary recruiter Gunter Brewer, UNC’s wide receivers coach.
“[Brewer] was very enthusiastic,” Jones said. “He knows what he’s talking about. He knows how to teach you.”
Following the camp, Brewer arranged for a quick tour of UNC’s facilities. After leaving the football office, Jones and his parents remained on campus to visit the Tar Heels’ basketball museum.
Although early, Jones says he’s been really attracted to the amount of interest NC State has paid to him.
Jones’s older teammates Taleni Suhren and Mason Veal, a UNC commitment, will continue their football careers on the collegiate level. Jones says Surhen and Veal will provide their future schools with an advantage with regards to recruiting him.
“I do want to stay with them,” Jones said. “But I’m going to do with what’s best for me.”
Collegiate position is one of the biggest question marks surrounding Jones. Most schools have labeled him simply an athlete, while Clemson and UNC have penciled him in at receiver and NC State wants to groom him into a linebacker.
Hastings is just as baffled as the colleges. He could see Jones developing into a safety or receiver, or bulking up into a linebacker.
“I think he’s so young and I think his body frame is so young, so I think the future is in front of him,” Hastings said. “So for me, it’s hard to say where he’s going to end up at… He’s 190 [pounds] right now and he’s going to get a lot bigger. Seeing him develop is going to be interesting. “
To improve his athleticism and speed, Jones plans to try out for Ardrey Kell’s basketball team and will run track this spring… Jones said he grew up a Florida fan.