Therefore, when a player of Jordan Jones' caliber decides to walk on at Pitt, it's a big deal. Jones is a receiver/tight end hybrid type of player from Joliet Catholic Academy (IL) near Chicago. He helped his team to a 10-2 record, advancing to the Class 5A Quarterfinals.
"I applied (to Pitt), and I ended up getting a full academic scholarship," Jones said. "So, I had my coach (Dan Sharp) send them my film."
And that's when Pitt got heavily involved, starting with recruiting coordinator Dann Kabala, followed by offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph. Knowing his academics were covered, financially, is one thing. When Rudolph reached out to him to express an interest, knowing he would have a spot as a walk-on, it was pretty much the same as getting a Division-I football scholarship--a dream for Jones, his whole life.
"It's always a goal, to be on an athletic scholarhsip," Jones said. "But, it's not like if I don't, I can't play next year. The money is not an issue, but I guess if I was on an athletic scholarship, too, that would be nice.
"[Rudolph] was telling me he kind of wanted me to be an upback, fullback type of tight end. He pretty much told me they would explore using me in a prototypical pro style offense. It's similar to what I did in high school, and similar to what they did at Wisconsin. It's a really good fit there, and I felt like he had a plan for me."
Keep in mind, fullbacks--also considered tight ends, or a combination of the two in this offense--have had a couple walk-ons earn scholarships. Mark Giubilato and Adam Lazenga are two, already under Chryst, to have earned scholarships as former walk-ons. Whether it was Jones sensing they had a plan for him, or some previous history, Rudolph obviously made a good impression on him.
Interestingly, Jones played strictly offense at Joliet Catholic, except for one game. That was the opener against Providence Catholic, a 42-35 win for Joliet. Providence has 2015 standout Miles Boykin (6-4, 205) who already has over a dozen offers, including Florida, Notre Dame and Wisconsin, to name a few. Jones, at 6-3, 195, matched up at corner with Boykin.
There were also a couple of other factors. Jones also played against Pitt signee Chris James. Joliet beat James' Notre Dame team 38-14 back in October. It didn't stop James from trying to recruit Jones to Pitt when he was considering schools.
"Yeah, we play in the same conference," Jones said. "He sent me a message on Facebook, and told me I should come to Pitt."
That's a four-star prospect urging a walk-on candidate to come to Pitt. It shows how much James wants to be at Pitt. It also shows how well-respected Jones is, by a worthy adversary, now teammate.
The clincher, perhaps, was the Midwest connection. Not that Pittsburgh is in the Midwest. Still, he sensed that type of connection in talking with guys like Rudolph and head coach Paul Chryst. He could have easily stayed closer to home and gone to Illinois or Purdue. However, there was more of a personal connection with the Pitt coaching staff.
"Really, the closeness to home, that wasn't a factor," Jones said. "But, whenever I talked to the coaches at Pittsburgh, it was like a business meeting. It was like I'm talking to someone from the Chicago area. Before that, all I really knew about Pitt was that Mike Ditka played there, and they had a pretty good basketball program."