No part of the country is more key to Notre Dame's recruiting resurgence than the South. Last year's class featured the signing of three recruits from Florida, two from Georgia and one each from Texas, North Carolina and Arkansas. If early returns are any indication, the Irish should once again pull key recruits from south of the Mason-Dixon line. What have you been missing by not being a member of Irish Eyes?
Traditionally, northern teams head south for speedy skill position players. Last year Notre Dame somewhat bucked that trend by signing four of their six offensive linemen and their two linebacker recruits from southern states. They did get wide receiver Richard Jackson out of Florida and it appears that the Irish are headed back to the Sunshine state for another top-flight athlete. John Jones, ATH, 6-4, 212, Booker High School, Sarasota, FL employs a combination of size and speed that makes him quite the unusual player.
"He's very unique," said Booker head coach Fred Gilmore of Jones. "He's a rare combination of being a defensive end and a wide receiver. He played opposite a receiver that had over 1,200 yards receiving and 22 touchdowns, and he still managed to have over 30 catches and 6 touchdown catches."
Considering Jones' speed and athleticism, those kinds of numbers in themselves might garner Jones the kind of recruiting attention that he's received, but add to that equation 23 sacks on defense and clearly this is one mega-talented athlete.
"He plays both ways and its rare for us to have that," explained Gilmore. "He's an athlete. No one knows if he's going to be a receiver, defensive end or a linebacker. No matter what position he's placed at, he looks athletic. Notre Dame says that, too."
Notre Dame's recruiting strategy has targeted playmakers and Gilmore says that label perfectly describes Jones.
"The thing about him is he makes plays; he's a playmaker," enthused Gilmore. "He's an impact player. He finds a way to get near the ball and makes plays. Offensively, he makes plays down the stretch and then defensively he wants to be the guy that makes the play that turns the tide of the game."
According to Gilmore, Notre Dame has made a written scholarship offer but they will face plenty of competition. Besides the Irish, Jones currently has scholarship offers from Louisville, Pitt, Ole Miss and Auburn. Jones lists his current favorites as Notre Dame, Florida, Miami, Georgia, LSU and Auburn.
Notre Dame plucked talented cornerback Raeshon McNeil out of North Carolina last year and hopes to repeat that success with Barquell Rivers, LB, 6-1, 220, Anson High School, Wadesboro, NC. Rivers does not yet have a written offer from the Irish but is both hopeful and expectant that one will soon come.
"I don't think I have it (an offer) yet," explained Rivers. "I think I'm supposed to get one this week or maybe next week. Coach Grooms spoke to one of the coaches and he said it was Coach Weis' overall decision."
If Rivers' junior stats are any indication of this young man's ability, that offer probably won't be long in coming. The talented linebacker recorded 157 tackles and earned both all-state and conference defensive player of the year honors.
Rivers describes himself as a focused and intense player who willingly takes a leadership role.
"I bring a lot of intensity and leadership," said Rivers. "I make sure everybody knows their role before the play. I make sure I know everything going on at all the positions so we won't have any mental letdowns on the field. I can cover from sideline to sideline. I'm good at tackling. They (his coaches) say I have pretty good speed and I'm a pretty good tackler, but I need to work more on my hands to get off blocks."
Rivers currently has Notre Dame in his top six that also includes Virginia Tech, Virginia, Florida, Florida State and North Carolina State. He currently has offers from Wake Forest, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Florida, Virginia, Virginia Tech and South Carolina.
Though the Irish have yet to extend an offer, Rivers obviously holds them in high regard.
"I like their football tradition," said Jones of his interest in Notre Dame. "That's mainly it. I'll probably come up for a Junior Day or a camp."