Running back Malcolm Jones (Westlake Village, Calif.) sports offers from Stanford, Oregon, USC, UCLA, Colorado and Arizona. Stanford and UCLA stand atop the list of those offerees, and Jones can cite specific reasons for placing both schools high on his list.
"Well, Stanford, it's obviously the academic thing," Jones told The Bootleg Thursday night. "You can't get a better education on the West Coast than Stanford. They have a good coaching staff, I like them. And they have really nice facilities.
"With UCLA, there are nice facilities and it's a good academic school. I toured the campus and liked it a lot. It felt small. UCLA's not even half the size of Stanford's campus - Stanford's campus is huge. I kind like the little campus a little more, but I like them both."
Still, large campus notwithstanding, Jones stresses that the Cardinal are in a good position.
"Stanford's one of my top schools right now," he said. "When I went up there, I liked it a lot. It made me like it more than some other schools."
Compared to some of the other 2010 recruits The Bootleg has profiled, Jones is still early stages of his recruitment. A five-star prospect and the No. 3 running back in his class, Jones has yet to eliminate any schools, and any commitment he might make in still months down the road.
"Right now, I'm not entirely sure where I'm set to go," Jones admits. "Everyone still has a chance. I'm still pretty open to all the schools. Coach wants me to commit before my senior season starts, but I'm not sure I'll be ready by then. I'm not really sure, not entirely sure."
Jones has gone to USC, UCLA and Stanford for Junior Days and all three schools have offered, yet the Bruins and Cardinal stand alone atop his list. The Trojans have signed some of the nation's top recruiting classes throughout the Pete Carroll era, and USC's draw is that much stronger in California, but Jones has reasons for his lukewarm reception of USC.
"I think the thing about USC is when you get there, you really have to wait your turn to play," he said. "At USC, it's really hard to start as a freshman. At Stanford and UCLA, I'll have a really good shot to play right away. There's a higher chance of getting earlier playing time."
Another unique aspect of Jones' recruitment is that he spends a lot less time on the phone with coaches than other recruits of his profile. Given that recruiting is in a period where phone conversations must be initiated by recruits, the decision is entirely Jones'.
"I don't really get the whole phone thing; I usually email them back and forth," he said, adding that his primary contacts at Stanford have been Coach Jim Harbaugh and running backs coach Willie Taggart. "In a month or two, they'll be able to call me. … I sort of have a friendship with college coaches, but I want to make my own decision."
Jones does add that one way coaches have been communicating with him in bulk is via his mailbox.
It's hard to glean too many conclusions from one interview, but, if anything, Malcolm Jones comes across as incredibly independent for a high school junior. Witness his promise to not fall head over heels for any one school but keep an open mind, or not spend too much time talking with any one coaching staff, lest they interfere with his ability to render unclouded judgment.
Perhaps the healthy skepticism is the sign of a cerebral athlete. Given their university's non-trivial admissions requirements for athletes, Stanford fans can certainly hope so.
"My grades are a lot better this semester," Jones said. "I think I got all A's and two B+s. I think, during football season, I lose focus on school a little bit and tend to focus too much on football, but after the season is over, I have more time to study and do homework. I probably have like a 3.7 or 3.8 GPA."
Another major piece of a prospective Stanford student-athlete's application are his standardized test scores. Jones hasn't put pencil to paper yet, but has a date and target score set.
"I'm taking the ACT April 4," said Jones, who adds he will not take the SAT, but will take SAT Subject Tests come June. "I'm trying to get a 26 or 27."
While Malcolm Jones is unsure of his college destination and commitment date, one area where he does have more clarity is what his ideal program looks like. In fact, Jones can list four considerations.
"First is academics," Jones said. "Second are the players, and the coaching staff. Both Stanford and UCLA's staffs stand out a lot as nice and respectful toward you. SC's too, but Stanford and UCLA's a little bit more. Plus, do the coaches get along with each other?
"Third is the campus: is it a nice campus? And fourth is the student life. I want to be able to interact with people other than the football team there."
And finally, though Jones didn't list it there, the consideration of playing time looms large.
"I want to play as early as I can," Jones said. "A lot of schools will say you can play early, but- and it's not a school thing, it's just me-I'm not sure I'll be ready enough and I need to be sure I have a good chance to play early. I want to know how deep their position is, and if they really need me as much as they say they do."