"Stanford, I really like Stanford, they're really high on my list because of the academics they provide and are known for not nationwide, but worldwide. But recruiting's nerve-racking because you can only go to one place. So out of 18 places which I am truly grateful for, you kind of wish you only had three, to make the decision easier."
Indeed, Jones will have to narrow his 18 offers -- from schools including Michigan, Stanford, Virginia, Texas A&M, Missouri, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado and Boise State – not just to three finalists, but to the one school he'll attend for the next four(-ish) years. How does Jones intend to chop his list?
"The history of the program, whether the academics are well-known, and then location and the cultural environment," Jones said of his three selection criteria. "I want to be in a beautiful school environment and enjoy my college experience. Stanford is supposed to be beautiful school, with great surroundings, and a diverse community.
"I just don't want to be in the middle of nowhere. I'm used to being in a city with a college. From what I hear, Stanford is a really good fit, it's great and I hope to get the opportunity to visit."
The word "hope" in that last sentence looms larger than it appears, for it hints at the obstacle that has emerged between Stanford and Jones:
Stanford is no longer sure it has room in its class for Kellen Jones.
"I talked to Coach Hart and due to the James Vaughters commitment, he said they're full at the linebacker position, so they're not taking linebackers right now, unless someone decommits," Jones said of a late June call with Stanford's defensive line coach. "It was shocking when I heard it. He said, ‘I'm glad you called, but I don't want you to waste your time visiting next month because we are now full at your position with the commitment of Vaughters. We are still definitely interested as far as you committing, but right now, we are already full at your position.'"
"It was a shock to hear. Stanford was definitely high on my list. If that's not the place for me, that's what God says, but if someone decommits, I'll still go check them out. It's not an automatic commitment, but definitely I'll go check it out. I was really interested with them. But as always, it depends on my visit.
"They have a linebacker in my spot, with [2011 LB] James Vaughters committing one-and-a-half months ago," Jones said. "I know [2011 LB] Anthony Sarao made a soft commitment. So I'm still interested, so if he decommits, I know I can count on Stanford, if I feel that's the place for me, when I make a visit.
Jones adds that he's looking at other schools, but Stanford still stands out, one coach in particular.
"I'm looking at a lot of other schools too. It's just the history of Stanford's academics, I believe it is a up-and-coming program with Jim Harbaugh, with the coach they just got in [Stanford defensive coordinator and former Baltimore Raven linebacker coach] Vic Fangio. He coached legendary NFL linebackers, that sounds good to me."
Sounds like the coaching connection to Raven LB Ray Lewis would carry a lot of weight with Jones.
"Ray Lewis is actually my favorite linebacker. I just love his hustle, every play, his energy. He's always energetic. I love the way he comes out of his stance. He comes flying everywhere to knock the heck out of you. I love that about football. I love the way Ray Lewis plays. I love the way he plays a big part in shutting teams down. I love his energy."
Say Stanford does find room in its class for Jones? Would he still want to commit to a school that's so deep at linebacker that they weren't sure they had room for him in the first place? He says the concern is overblown, as his versatility may help him find the field, regardless of depth chart.
"They're switching to 3-4 with two inside linebackers, so you still have to have depth at that position. You have to have depth, and they said they consider me at inside or outside. Coach Fangio said especially inside, but due to my athleticism, I could probably play outside. If there are three guys at each position on a depth chart, and say some of them can't play inside, or some of them can't play weakside, I think that's a good depth chart for me. But if you don't see me playing inside, and they are stacked at that position, then that is something that I have to consider when making my decision. I do want to get some early time."
While there is no shortage of recruits whose interest in a school isn't fully reciprocated, it's unique for a recruit to be as open about his situation as Jones. Perhaps a reason for the lack of cover up is, simply put, that Jones feels there is nothing to cover up. Stanford, he says, has been straightforward with him, and so he harbors no ill will. "I think they've been honest with me," he said. "Coach Harbaugh told my dad, "I don't want you to waste your time and visit now, but we're still very interested and we'll roll out the red carpet if you come. I appreciate him being honest with me and letting me know ahead of time. I really appreciate that."
Of course, the past month's dimming of his Stanford prospects has only served to brighten the prospect that Jones lands at any of his other 17 candidate schools. And as it turns out, Jim Harbaugh and the 1972 and 1973 Rose Bowls (and, in recruiting, mutual 2010 recruit OT Chris Bryant, and former Stanford commit Courtney Avery, among many others) may not be the only links between Stanford and a school thousands of miles away.
"I really like Michigan," Jones said. "My dad's dream was to go there, and he pretty much passed that on to me growing up. I really like Michigan and will visit them late this month. If the visit goes well, then they'll remain high on my list. Like I said I do have high interest, but I'm also interested in other schools.
"Virginia, I think, had the highest minority grad rate for the last 10 years, and that's definitely good and why I like that. They run a 4-3 and need some help on D. Colorado -- I love the atmosphere there. It was beautiful. I love my [prospective position] coach there, if I were to go there. Arkansas -- I love the [position] coach, a great guy and a very good recruiter, and I love what they showed me."
The latest offer came from Texas A&M, where this author was surprised to learn that All-American linebacker Dat Nguyen is now linebacker coach. "The thing is, everybody knew my name when I stepped on campus," Jones said of his in-state visit to College Station. "They recalled my stats. Everybody knew about me."
From his comments on Michigan, you can tell that Jones puts a heavy premium on his school visit. Plenty of recruits talk about a feeling or a vibe, but Jones places more faith in his gut feeling than most. If he doesn't mesh with the location, a school can forget about landing him.
"I just don't feel comfortable committing to a place I haven't seen," Jones said. "Like I said, my three criteria are a winning program, which I can find out for myself, and academics, and I can look that up too. So the visits are all about location seeing what campus is. It's pretty much what makes my decision. But I just have what I've seen with my dad. I wish I could take officials right now, but I can only do that in September, which I hate. I want to make a commitment before I start football this fall, so it won't bug me."
That timeline could prove problematic should Stanford, a school no stranger to decommitments in last year's recruiting cycle, find itself with a late vacancy and a hankering for Jones. Still, Jones says he's not going to let his September deadline force his hand.
"I might have to seriously reconsider my commitment in a situation like that," Jones said of a late, renewed push from Stanford. (omit - "I don't want to break anyone's heart, but if that's the place for me, I have to go.) It's the next four or five years of your life, so you have to ask God and pray, then hope that the coaches understand. I know Michigan had a decommit in Demar Dorsey – and he was a late decommit from Florida -- and that's not ideal, but it's the next four or five years of his life, and ultimately that is how you have to think."
As Michigan fans know but Stanford fans might not, Dorsey wasn't so much a voluntary decommit from Michigan as he was an admissions casualty, but Jones' point remains: if he has to break a school's heart, he will if he thinks the decision in his best interest.
Luckily for Michigan, Stanford and Jones alike, Jones' academic profile is much stronger than Dorsey's. Jones' solid grades are a byproduct of his upbringing, as he explains.
"I have a 3.3 GPA," he said. "I had a 3.4, but had a bad semester. My grades are not a problem. My parents are unhappy if I get a C. I don't have to not qualify for NCAA eligibility, my parents' cutoff is making all A's and B's, so [the NCAA minimums are] not a factor at all.
"I plan on retaking the ACT. I did not pace myself properly as far as time is concerned. I'm not pleased at all with my score. I just want to do better for myself. I'm a high-achiever and I can do better."
He says he can do better on the ACT, but we say Kellen Jones could do far worse than an offer list 18 schools strong. Stay tuned to The Bootleg to hear how a recruiting story absolutely unthinkable a few years ago shakes out – Stanford not having room for a four-star linebacker with genuine interest from Michigan.
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