It took less than a week for Alize Jones to make an impression.
Called up to the varsity at Bishop Gorman as a freshman for the playoffs, Notre Dame’s newest commitment was still a spindly receiver going against FBS prospects playing in an eventual state champion secondary.
“He bossed every single corner we had, every single senior,” said Irish commitment Nicco Fertitta, who teamed with Jones at Bishop Gorman. “It was crazy. He did it like it was nothing.”
On Thursday, with Notre Dame visiting Las Vegas following the dead period, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound athlete made a flip expected around South Bend for months. The five-star prospect dropped his long-standing commitment to UCLA and made a pledge to Notre Dame.
Jones is now the highest-rated prospect in the Irish class and continues to build an pipeline into Bishop Gorman, following Fertitta and left tackle Ronnie Stanley. To those inside the nation’s top-ranked prep program, Jones and Stanley are similar in athleticism, but the tight end has the more natural work ethic.
“Alize is a different breed, he’s a one percenter,” said former head coach Tony Sanchez, now at UNLV. “Of all the kids I’ve coached here, he’s been the biggest student of the game as far as football goes. The most love for football, the pure version of football.”
Sanchez called Jones a football “nerd” and the five-star prospect spends weekends with Fertitta, gorging on college football. That X’s and O’s education has been gradual for Jones and the same goes for his athletic advancement. That gaunt freshman receiver with decent hands grew into a hulking tight end with a great grip by staying after practices to catch balls.
Every day when Jones exited that weight room to catch passes he passed beneath a “Play Like a Champion Today” sign.
The end result was a U.S. Army All-American who could play attached at the line of scrimmage or split wide. Sanchez said the Gaels would run power behind Jones on one snap and throw fades to him on the next.
Notre Dame recruited Jones to fill the void left by Tyler Eifert and pitched him on being a tight end first and receiver second.
“He does a good job of being violent at the point of attack, but he has the ability to split out,” Sanchez said. “A big part of the recruiting process has been, where am I going to develop as a tight end and not just a wide receiver? He can go play wide receiver. Don’t know if that’s something he’s real interested in.
“He knows that he’s unique, he’s a tight end. There’s a lot of 6-foot-5 guys that can run and catch balls. How many of those guys can you not have to change personnel groups, stick him inside, run the ball behind him, then go to an empty set and not have to pull that guy off the field?”
“The big key with him is the diversity that you have with him.”
Jones visited Notre Dame for the first time before his junior year, then returned twice this fall – the Michigan game and the awards show weekend – with Fertitta. He maintained his UCLA commitment until today when tight ends coach Scott Booker visited the school as the dead period lifted.
“He’s as good as I’ve seen in high school at his position,” said Bishop Gorman offensive line and strength coach Sean Manuel, who played four years in the NFL.
“In terms of athletic ability, he’s just scratching the surface. Maybe his ceiling won’t be as high as Ronnie, but Alize is another guy who’s going to be playing on Sundays.”
Jones will join a crowded but open depth chart this summer, with Ben Koyack out the door and four players returning with limited experience. Durham Smythe, Tyler Luatua, Nic Weishar and Mike Heuerman have combined for one career catch.
It’s hard to imagine Jones not fighting his way into that rotation considering his reputation around Bishop Gorman.
“Put him down on the line and he’s ready to block, split out wide and who’s gonna cover this guy? He’s a receiver and a tight end all mixed into one,” Fertitta said. “He’s kind of like Aaron Hernandez. The guy’s unstoppable.”