Keeping up with Jones

A starter since the first game of his freshman season, Notre Dame's best player through the first 10 games of 2013 has a message for his younger wide receiver position mates: focus -- before it's too late.

That 2013 marks the best season of T.J. Jones' career as a four-year starter in South Bend is not in question. It's likewise difficult to argue the Irish legacy isn't the team MVP to date. How he'll be remembered, on the other hand, remains undefined.

But if Jones has his druthers, the final three games of his collegiate career will serve as the lasting impression of a player destined to finish as the second-leading pass-catcher in program history.

"I just want to finish on a high note, for myself, for my teammates," said Jones. "I want to leave their lasting memories of me at Notre Dame to be the highest possible."

Jones enters his final trio of contests with 165 receptions, five shy of tying Rhema McKnight for third-place on the program's all-time receptions list. McKnight's teammate Jeff Samardzija is well within range with 179 receptions, a Mark Jones should pass in a forthcoming bowl game if not during the season finale at Stanford.

First he and the Irish will tussle with Brigham Young, an ideal spoiler scenario due both to the Cougars stout rushing attack, defense, and the ancillary issue of Senior Day in South Bend.

"It's going to be emotional. It'll be bittersweet," said Jones. "It'll be good to see my mom and (siblings) I haven't seen them for awhile. It'll be their first game up since South Florida. At the same time it's the last time I'll be inside the Stadium playing in a Notre Dame uniform and it's one of those things I always envisioned having my *dad and my mom out there with me. It's definitely going to be an emotional day for me.

(*The late Andre Jones passed away from a brain aneurysm in the summer of 2011. He was 42.)

"It means a lot being able to follow in my dad's footstep's to carrying on the Notre Dame legacy for my family one day. To uphold the man I know my dad would want me to be."

That man is the grizzled veteran of Notre Dame's deepest receivers unit in recent memory. Including Jones, five wide receivers have collected touchdown passes in 2013 (freshmen Will Fuller and Corey Robinson, sophomore Chris Brown and junior DaVaris Daniels).

Excluding Jones, each registered the first score of his career this fall. With the exception of WR/QB Luke Massa, the entire allotment of healthy Irish receivers caught a pass this season -- four, including redshirt-freshman C.J. Prosise, were rookies, each of whom started multiple games. So too did sophomore Chris Brown.

It's for Brown and the young guys for whom Jones has an exiting lesson.

"I think they have to understand how quick it goes by," the senior captain said. "Chris Brown is going to be a junior next year. I know the (freshmen and Brown) don't feel like it, but it moves fast. You have to cherish every opportunity you have on and off the field.

"You have to understand you can't control what happens to you. Any day could be your last day, it could be a season-ending injury, God forbid, but you have to go out there and play like it's your last game."

That abandon has afforded Jones a season commensurate with the "No. 1 receiver" moniker affixed to him prior to the season by his head coach, Brian Kelly.

54 receptions, 891 yards, and eight touchdowns, the latter includes a streak of seven games straight -- one short of the program record shared by Samardzija and Golden Tate.

Though he's finally nationally recognized, Jones' breakout season came as a junior last fall. He tied for the team lead with 50 receptions -- with the nation's Mackey Award winning tight end Tyler Eifert no less -- though few noticed.

"It did drive me (over his last off-season). I feel my first three years, having greats like Michael Floyd and Tyler Eifert, I was overshadowed, but that was my role," he admitted. "I tried to play my role to the best of my ability and that come senior year, once Eifert graduated, that it was going to be my time to shine and I had to take every opportunity I could and make the most of it."

Three opportunities await. Jones is a good bet to make the most of each.

Note: For more on TJ Jones, look for a feature story in the forthcoming December issue of Irish Eyes Magazine. Top Stories