Redefined

Junior wide receiver T.J. Jones has elevated his game since last season. Part of the payoff is a new signature moment most Irish fans will never forget.

Prior to Saturday's comeback win over Stanford, Notre Dame junior T.J. Jones was best known for two disparate occasions:

  1. In the 2010 season-opener, Jones became the first true freshman wide receiver since 1982 to start the opener for the Fighting Irish. He accentuated that milestone by scoring Notre Dame's first touchdown of the season.

  2. In the 2011 season-opener, Jones became the unwitting poster-boy of a day gone bad as the subject of head coach Brian Kelly's verbal evisceration following the former's mental error that resulted in a South Florida interception with the Irish just five yards from pay dirt. (A Tommy Rees pass bounced off Jones' helmet with Jones failing to look for the ball on of all patterns, a crossing route).

Ask most Irish fans to play word association with Jones today and neither of the above would likely immediately spring to mind. Remarkable game-winning touchdown catches in overtime will do a lot for a player's credibility among his fan base.

"I would say that's the biggest catch: game-winning touchdown, the difficulty of the catch was high, so the defining catch of my career here so far," said Jones when asked if the sliding stab ranked as his top moment.

The pass came from classmate and fellow 2010 January enrollee Tommy Rees' right arm. Rees' cognitive development had a bit to do with the play as well.

"It was actually a run play that got checked," said Jones of the audibled score. "And when (Rees) made the check, I knew he made it because I was going to be open, so I had to win in the one-on-one matchup. I adjusted to the ball and just kind of threw my hands out there. Luckily it stuck."

According to Jones' head coach, the highlight snare was due more to preparation meeting skill than luck of the Irish.

"It was thrown without much air on it either," said Kelly addressing the ball was well behind Jones. "He made a great grab. He's a very skilled player this year in terms of he has focused on his craft."

That increased focus makes most one-on-one matchups to the wide field a tough cover for any cornerback.

"He made a great catch. I saw a look, where we could isolate him one-on-one outside. It wasn't a great throw, but TJ played a heck of a game and made a nice play there to catch the ball and gave us the go ahead touchdown," said Rees of his game-winning snap.

The catch was Jones' second touchdown of the season, though that number belies his overall contribution. Third among targeted pass catchers (Jones has had 31 passes thrown his way this season, a shade behind Tyler Eifert, 34, and Theo Riddick, 32) Jones has recorded 19 receptions to rank second on the team. Of the 19, 17 have resulted in first downs or touchdowns, easily the highest total and percentage among Irish skill position players.

"I think the difference between T.J. this year and last year is his focus on being a complete wide receiver in all facets of the game," said Kelly prior to the Stanford contest. Jones made Kelly's comments seem prescient days later.

"He came back six yards for the ball; great receivers do that," said Kelly of a 14-yard come back route Jones secured from Golson on a ball thrown from the far hash across the field. "They come back and get the football. They don't stand waiting for it. And that's been his progression. He's progressed in the still end of that position in his route running and that was evident in that particular play."

Jones believes its a progression the entire team has made in Year 3 of the Kelly era.

"I think its in the three years Coach Kelly has been here we've worked to it," said Jones of the team's 6-0 start. "We're starting to see it happen. It's not really a surprise, but just starting to see the results of our hard work and dedication. With every win, that next game gets that much bigger, because we have that much more at stake if we lose, regardless of who that team is."

Next up is Brigham Young. Then a date with more national exposure in Norman vs. another of college football's signature programs, Oklahoma.

Thanks to three seasons of preparation, the Irish junior target will play a key role in both.


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