The drive Northeast on I-85 became a calming, scenic drive once the Mitsubishi Galant rental car hit I-985. After driving for about 19 miles on I-985, the Gainesville exit signs began to pop up.
After exiting and turning towards the west, it quickly became evident that Gainesville, GA was hidden gem. Mixing the historic with the new, the town known as the "Queen City of the Mountains" or the "Poultry Capital of the World" had charm and a sense of rich history.
Gainesville High, known for their mascot name the Red Elephants, has produced some quality athletes and important people in the business world as well. The list includes 1973 Masters Champion Tommy Aaron, former major league pitcher Chris Carpenter, current major league pitcher Micah Owings, Georgia athletic director Damon Evans, the 1980's "Guru of the Decade" Robert Prechter known for his financial forecasting, poultry entrepreneur Jesse Jewell and Miss Georgia 2002 Amy Mulkey among others.
Missing from the list is a professional football player. While it's way too early in the career of high school football player to predict an NFL future, junior wide receiver Tai-ler Jones is already the most heavily recruited football prospect out of Gainesville High in years, if not ever.
Assistant coach and Jones' position coach Todd Wofford said his star pupil has some special gifts.
"As a player, he is what some old school coaches would call a football player," Wofford said. "You can line him up at a lot of different positions and he would be the best at all of them. He's explosive and has very good instincts and I think that comes from his football background with his dad (former Notre Dame linebacker Andre Jones) and the people he has been around in his life. We've never had a player here with as many offers as Tai-ler has right now."
As Coach Wofford pointed out, Jones has received his fair share of offers to this point closing in on 20 with the most recent being UCLA on Monday.
"I have offers from UCLA, Stanford, Arkansas, Notre Dame, Ohio State, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia Tech, Miami (FL), Kentucky, Ole Miss, North Carolina State, Alabama and I'm probably missing a few," Jones said.
Like many players nationwide, Jones has begun the junior day visit process. The 5-11, 176-pound three-sport star has three junior days behind him with a fourth possible.
"I've been to junior days at Notre Dame, Ohio State and Florida State. Notre Dame was definitely great to see what my dad went through. They offered me when I got there, so I got to spend a lot of one on one time with the coaches. At Ohio State, I got a tour and a lot of one on one time with the head coach (Jim Tressel) and the receiver's coach. Florida State was more general. They showed all the recruits around. They had a lot of players on official visits that they were going to sign, so they were trying to take care of them. We saw more of a broad look at the school," Jones said.
Added Jones, "This weekend, I'm supposed to be going to Texas, but it's a 13 hour car drive or an expensive plane flight for my family."
Jones, who is being recruited by Texas receivers coach Bobby Kennedy, says the Texas offense is what has his interest peaked.
"They are definitely a high caliber offense and they compete in the BCS every year. They are more passing than running and for a receiver, that's where you want to be," Jones said.
The first question asked of Jones by most people is if Notre Dame is the team to beat because his father, Andre Jones, played at Notre Dame and was a member of the 1988 National Championship team. Jones said there is some pressure there, but it will be his decision in the end.
"There is a little pressure just because you want to make your dad happy and go where he went, but at the same time he tells me to go where I feel comfortable. Just because Notre Dame was best for him doesn't mean it will be best for me," Jones said.
The other school asked about most is the Georgia Bulldogs with its proximity to Gainesville. Sitting just 41 miles from Gainesville, Georgia would be an easy commute for Jones' family.
"Georgia is 40 minutes away. They are in the picture, but they haven't offered me yet. I'm still working trying to get that offer from them because it would be an easy commute for my family and friends," Jones said.
With offers from around the country, the decision to stay close to home or go away for college is on the mind of the AAA all-state receiver who caught 81 passes for 1,000 yards in 2008.
"There is a little bit of pressure to stay on this side of the Mississippi as my dad says. It would be easier to commute, but at the same time, if a college feels like home, who cares where it's at," Jones.
With a desire to major in broadcast journalism and find that feeling of home, finding a college that is strong with his future major and would help fight the possibility of homesickness is key.
"I'm looking for a college that is like a home away from home. The environment that the people and coaches make around the campus is important. I'm looking for somewhere that gives me the feeling that if I do get homesick, it's still a place I could find that home feeling at. If I weren't to play football, is it still a college I would attend as a student," Jones said.
While Jones is a national 100 caliber prospect, football isn't the only sport that will play into the decision making process for the talented athlete. Jones is said to be an elite baseball prospect by his high school baseball coach and a prospect that could be drafted out of high school.
"Well, I've asked all of the colleges and most of them said they will let me play both sports in college. There is a possibility of me being drafted out of high school and in that case, I would have to make a decision to play both or run with the money," Jones said with a laugh.
As a sophomore, the center fielder and pitcher hit .486 with more than 30 stolen bases, two home runs and 20 RBI's.