Never close the door in recruiting. As a prospect, never disrespect a school because you never know when you might have to come back around.
As a school, the best coaches know to always be willing to watch every last bit of film and re-evaluate what you thought you knew then compared to what you do now.
Oklahoma never closed the door on Charlotte (N.C.) Mallard Creek four-star athlete Ryan Jones, and it paid off the best way possible by earning his signature Wednesday morning.
The question remains how did Jones, who is regarded easily as one of the top prospects in Carolina, ever reach that point? To being one weekend away from perhaps not finding a home?
That’s where Mallard Creek assistant and recruiting coordinator Del Barnes comes in, to fill in the gaps and try to help OU fans realize it might have just found the steal of the 2017 class.
“What you have to remember is he committed to North Carolina right after signing day last year,” Barnes said. “It was maybe a week after signing day, but it was real early. He still talked to schools and heard from them, but they knew. He was a huge North Carolina basketball fan. That’s where he was going.”
Jones decommitted from North Carolina on Sept. 22.
“There were a couple of things going on,” Barnes said. “Ryan’s parents, along with Ryan, wanted to stay on the east coast. The ACC and SEC schools that weren’t so far away. Schools like South Carolina, Virginia Tech, Florida started talking to him but some schools were full, too, because they thought he would be at North Carolina.”
The elephant in the room was the off the field factor. Jones ran into some issues. No, it wasn’t anything legal or drugs or academics, but it was issues that might have led to some teams questioning his character.
And in recruiting, if you have to ask those types of questions, sometimes the easiest thing to do is walk away.
In simplest terms, Jones wasn’t being the best teammate. He was the star of the team, for sure, but at Mallard Creek and every other successful school, it’s about the team first.
“We had to give Ryan some tough love,” Barnes said. “We’re a team-first type of program. It’s about the name on the front of the jersey.”
Jones was picking up personal foul penalties and just doing things you wouldn’t expect a four-star captain to do.
He was placed on scout team offense and defense for two weeks. Couldn’t play varsity but was still there every day running scout team.
“Ryan has great parents,” Barnes said. “His mom is a teacher. His parents came in and talked to us. They accepted it and understood what we were trying to instill in Ryan. Sat him for two games, and he didn’t complain once.
“He learned his lesson. We were done with it from our standpoint.”
Jones was a different player. A different teammate. He returned to varsity and finished with 31 catches for 541 yards and seven touchdowns to go with 21 tackles and four passes defensed as a two-way threat for Mallard Creek.
That lesson Mallard Creek tried to instill into Jones? Successful.
“He valued the game more,” Barnes said. “He came to me and said, ‘I’ve been playing the game every year since I was 8 and never missed a game.’ For him to have to sit down, it hurt him.”
Redeeming himself the way he did kept that door ajar just a bit, enough for OU to revisit a recruit it, at one time, never thought it had a shot with.
Jones was actually offered by OU in July 2015, more than 18 months before he would commit to the Sooners. The connection was obvious. Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley spent years in that part of the country with East Carolina. He knew where to go.
“Last year Lincoln Riley came to one of our games to watch Thaddeus Moss. He saw Ryan Jones and told me, ‘Ryan Jones is a man-child.’”
Moss, a three-star tight end, signed with North Carolina State for the 2016 class. It wouldn’t be until November 2016 when OU would loop back around to check in with Jones.
Although Riley had been the main contact, this time around it was for defense. It was defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks starting to inquire about Jones that put the wheels in motion for him to land in Norman.
Jones had always been regarded as a great, first-rate receiver, but Barnes didn’t flinch when asked about Jones’ potential in the secondary.
“He’s an outstanding defender,” Barnes said. “He’s long. He’s aggressive. He’ll be a heck of a safety. Long term? I’d say he projects into a free safety, playing over the top. He’ll bring that boom.”
But yea, Jones could be a starting receiver for the Sooners, too.
“He’s a great athlete,” Barnes said. “Some of the best hands you’ll ever see.”
Jones met with Cooks just a few days before his official visit last weekend. The in-home visit was so good that just about everybody knew as long as Jones made it to Norman, he was going to commit.
No drama necessary as Jones committed last Saturday afternoon and was the first signee for OU’s SoonerSquad17 on Wednesday because of the advantage of being in the eastern time zone.
The journey to OU is complete for Jones. Had some twists and turns along the way, but he’s found his home. It’s in Norman.
“I’m so proud of him,” Barnes said. “I’m so proud of the way he handled himself. It was so public up and down the east coast (sitting out two games). But he never shied away from that conversation. He handled it as well as a 17-year-old could.
“He’s never had a problem working hard and being accountable. I’ll tell you this. It will be really tough to redshirt. Knowing Ryan, it will be really tough.”