Within a 24 hour period, Saraland (Ala.) three-star wide out Velus Jones went from being a Trojan, to an Oklahoma Sooner, back to being a Trojan again.
Football analysts often remark at how the speed of the game has increased over the years, but few recognize how the speed of technology has changed the game of recruiting. A decade ago, a recruit could commit to a school and only a dozen of his closest friends and family would know of his decision — right or wrong.
Today, the double-edged sword of Twitter can inform millions of your greatest triumph or mistake within seconds. But Kyle Towner, Jones’ uncle, is proud of his nephew’s speed in recognizing his mistake and owning up to it immediately.
“I can quote him and say he feels in his heart he has made the right decision to attend USC,” said Towner. “From the moment he sent out the tweet that OU was it, he felt that he made the wrong choice.
“He talked about it with his family in the hours following his tweet. He sort of realized he had sent out to the world -- via social media -- that he was going to Oklahoma and needed to make that right.
“We’re talking about a 17-year-old kid dealing with a big decision. He knew there would be backlash, but I’d rather him deal with the backlash now and make the right decision. Better to make that decision immediately than to wait a week and change his mind on signing day or to try to live with that bad decision.
“He owned up to it and got on the phone with the Oklahoma coaches right away. He called Bob Stoops, he called Lincoln Riley, he called Dennis Simmons, and explained to them he felt he had made the wrong choice.
“There was disappointment on their part, and certainly, that’s understandable going from an emotional high to an emotional low. The coaches just told Velus to do what was best for him. In this era of social media, it’s easy to bash a kid for making a decision and rescinding it 24 hours later, but the pressure was there. Some of it he put on himself.
“Going into Friday, we spoke, and he felt he needed to put this deadline on his decision. Remember, in December, he had put a timeline on making a final decision and then that was canceled. Because he put that date out there a second time, he felt like he needed to stick with it and make a choice.
“Being a kid, he didn’t understand that this is a decision that not only affects his next four years, but life after football. We’re talking about a degree from SC or a degree from OU. How does that affect you in the long run? My discussion with him in the last hour is that he is 100-percent made the right choice in going to USC.”
For the past two months, Jones was torn between Oklahoma and USC. With many recruiting experts penciling in an eventual de-commit from the Trojans, Jones did have plenty of reasons to favor the Sooners.
“He wants to create his own legacy, but one of the things that was alluring about OU was the fact that he would be able to come in and play immediately,” said his uncle. “There were the comparisons of him and Sterling Shepard along with his fit in Lincoln Riley’s offense.
“Velus has always wanted to step in and play as a freshman. Keep in mind, we also had family there and it was a comfortable situation for him. But ultimately, after the decision was made to tweet out he was going to OU, he thought about actually spending the next four years there.
“He knows there will be trials and tribulation, but keep in mind, he’s not making this decision for anyone but himself. If it were up to me, I’d say, ‘Son, I want you close to home.’ However, he wanted to do something different for himself.
“I think at the end of the day, it will make him a better person and a better man. The one thing I want for him is to grow mentally, physically and spiritually. He needs to grow in all of those facets to be the best and most productive person he can be overall. L.A. is such a diverse place with all of the different cultures, he’ll be able to embrace all of that and grow.”
Jones officially visited USC two weeks ago after spending time in Los Angeles over the summer attending the Trojans' Rising Stars Camp. However, as his uncle points out, Jones committed to USC sight unseen in April.
A school requires a great ambassador in order to land a commitment from a recruit who has never stepped foot on its campus.
“To be perfectly honest with you, Tee Martin would be the No. 1 reason Velus will be attending USC,” said Towner. “Tee Martin has been very instrumental in the recruiting of him from the very beginning.
“I’d be remiss to not mention the firing of Steve Sarkisian and our feeling that Velus needed to open things back up and listen to other schools. When he opened up his recruitment, you see what happened.
“Tennessee, Oklahoma, Michigan, Notre Dame… everything started happening for him, which was good. To be able to go to Michigan and see Jim Harbaugh, to be able to go to Oklahoma and see Bob Stoops, to be able to go to Tennessee and see Butch Jones… he was able to get a different idea of things.
“But through that, was Tee Martin. He committed to a man, to a coach. Some people will say you don’t go to a school for a coach, and I would agree with that. But you still have to be pretty comfortable with the coaching staff that’s there.
“How many kids have you seen this year alone de-commit because of coaching changes? Jacob Eason, the nation’s No. 1 quarterback de-commited from Georgia and visited Florida once Mark Richt was fired. That was a 50-50 thing for a while until he ended up back with Georgia. These kids build relationships with coaches and they are young and impressionable.
“To say you don’t commit to coach is a little naive. That’s what recruiting is — building relationships with coaches. The university has its academic standards and its facilities, but the coach is who you build the relationship with to learn about all of that.
“Now, I can tell you I didn’t like that lack of communication that came from USC after Sarkisian was fired. I told Tee Martin that then. He didn’t know what was going on, and said they weren’t telling him anything. I didn’t like that, but it got sorted out and he eventually was promoted as offensive coordinator.
"Velus felt safe with Tee Martin. Yeah, he is in Los Angeles (Calif.) as a small town kid from Alabama, but he knew Tee Martin would watch out for him and have his best interest at heart.”
.With a little more than a week left until signing day, schools could still make in-home visits with Jones and his family. His uncle is advising Jones against that.
“I would shield him against that,” said Towner. “He is safe in his commitment and says he is 100-percent in his decision to commit to USC. With that being said, I think it would be best to end it.
“There’s only a week left and I don’t want there to be any confusion or anything else. He needs to focus on getting his grades up and graduating so he’s ready for USC come the fall.”
Jones will enter fall camp at USC as the lowest rated of the Trojans' five potential incoming wide receivers. While he had numerous scholarship offers from schools in the SEC, he never garnered serious attention from Alabama or Auburn.
“The wide receiver class for USC is ranked the best in the country with (Josh) Imatorbhebhe, (Tyler) Vaughns, (Michael) Pittman and (Trevon) Sidney. We’re talking about All-Americans. I think he and Imatorbhebhe were the only ones who didn’t play in All-American games.
“I want Velus to go compete and show he belongs. He’s the dark horse in the race and Velus Jones is totally different than Vaughns, Sidney and Pittman. He’s also a competitor. Some people were concerned about him playing at SC with the four committed receivers plus guys like Juju Smith-Schuster and Adoree' Jackson already there.
“I think Velus can still come in and contribute. Now, he may not do it immediately from an offensive perspective, but he can still step in and contribute on special teams as a kick returner. USC’s first game next season is against Alabama — the home state school that did not offer Velus.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that he wants to go out there and play against the defending national champions and Nick Saban who did not offer him. That is motivation and fuel to work hard every day in order to be on that field against Alabama. Our family will all be in Dallas Sept. 3.”