Even from his brief time at USF, Autry Denson knew Bradenton (Fla.) IMG running back Tony Jones was a gifted player.
Notre Dame’s new running backs coach was less versed in the Irish board at the position after taking over the job last month. However, that unfamiliarity and subsequent honesty struck a positive note with Tony Jones Sr., father of the four-star back.
“I can guarantee you this,” Jones Sr. said. “Denson has the best interests of Notre Dame at heart. Tony was the top running back on the board at South Florida when Denson was there. When he left for Notre Dame and contacted us, I wanted to know how far away Tony was from getting a Notre Dame offer. Denson was honest with me. He said he didn’t know and that he would have to look at his film some more to see if he could be the right fit at Notre Dame. I really respected that honesty.”
Jones was on Notre Dame’s radar under Tony Alford but an offer never materialized.
That changed with Denson at the helm as the Irish came through with a scholarship.
“Jones was interested in Notre Dame when Tony Alford was there, and they had talked a few times,” Jones Sr. said. “When he left, Alford had very high praise for Autry when that coaching change happened.”
Jones Jr. will be an early enrollee in 2016 and plans to make his college decision before summer.
“He wants to get it done with,” Jones Sr. said. “He’ll take a couple visits this spring and decide before this summer.”
The Irish are set to receive a visit from Jones Jr. when Notre Dame hosts its junior day on March 21. Other schools in contention to land the 6-foot-1, 215-pound running back include Florida, Kentucky, Miami, and Ole Miss, according to Jones Sr.
“(Notre Dame) is the only visit we have set up right now,” Jones Sr. said. “He’s pretty much seen all the other schools. We may take a trip to Kentucky.”
Jones Jr. will likely enter Notre Dame’s junior day weekend on commit watch.
“It’s such a prestigious school,” Jones Sr. said. “I have Midwest ties having grown up in Chicago and having attended Illinois State. Notre Dame is a great school that speaks for itself.”
As decision time approaches, the chance to compete on the field will heavily weigh in Jones’ Jr. assessment of schools on his list.
“The biggest thing is having the chance to compete right away,” Jones Sr. added. “He also wants a place that feels like home with good people. We have talked about education, too, and having a Notre Dame degree would be huge. So would being able to create those relationships at Notre Dame that would carry over after graduation.”
On the field, Jones Jr. is the No. 1 ranked running back in the star-studded state of Florida. Following a standout performance at The Opening Regionals Nike camp in Orlando last week, Jones Jr. earned an invitation to The Opening this summer.
“He’s a versatile guy,” Jones Sr. said. “You don’t find many running backs that can stay on the field for every down and situation. He’s a power back that can also play in the slot and he can catch. He’s very elusive for his size.”
Jones is a four-star running back and is ranked as the No. 21 running back overall in the class of 2016.