Four-star wide receiver JJ Jones holds nearly three dozen scholarship offers from FBS programs. On Thursday, he decided to announce his top 10 teams in his recruitment, and Tennessee made the initial cut moving forward.
Jones, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound wideout from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, included Tennessee along with Georgia, Penn State, Michigan, South Carolina, Arkansas, Mississippi State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and West Virginia for his top 10 teams.
So why those 10 schools? According to Jones, they all met the criteria he has for the school he wants to play for at the next level.
“I had based my decision off three criteria,” Jones told me in an interview on Thursday. “Those top 10 schools were the best for me, number one, because of education. They all have the business major I plan on majoring in. Those are the schools that gave me the best opportunity for that. Number two is the play style, the offense. You want to go to a school where you can fit into the offensive scheme, so those are some of the schools that would fit great for me.
“And number three, the most comfort I feel. Those are the schools I feel most comfortable at. I took it from a perspective of, if I was just a regular student, would I go to that university even if I wasn’t playing football?”
Tennessee fits all of that criteria for Jones, and his comfort with the Vols stems from his relationships with UT’s coaches and his recent trip to Knoxville in January.
Jones says he talks to Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt and wide receivers coach Tee Martin “probably every day,” but those aren’t the only Vol coaches who contact him. He speaks with offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, area recruiter Shelton Felton, and assistant wide receivers coach and grad assistant Tyler Murphy.
Even though Felton doesn’t coach on the offensive side of the ball, Jones has formed a special bond with the young outside linebackers coach because of where they both come from.
“He’s a South Carolina guy, so we have a lot in common,” Jones said of Felton. “We can chat it up whenever we need to. We don’t just talk about recruiting; we can talk about life.”
It’s been three months since Jones first visited Knoxville back on January 18th. He picked up an offer from the Vols just four days later, but his trip to Tennessee has stayed on his mind ever since.
“Knoxville is great. The campus is great. The facilities they have are amazing, top notch,” Jones explained. “And just the environment of Knoxville was mesmerizing. It was a great visit.”
Jones said he talked with Chris Rumph at the time because that’s who his area recruiter was then. With Rumph now in the NFL, that responsibility has fallen to Felton. But Jones also got to sit down with Pruitt and discuss some details of how Tennessee would use Jones as a player and how they could help him as a person, too.
“I sat down with Coach Pruitt and talked for a long time about what they like about me, where they see me in the program,” Jones said. “They want to recruit me not only as a player but as a man.”
As far as where UT sees Jones in their system, they gave him a pretty unique comparison.
According to Jones, Tennessee’s coaches have been selling him on the idea of coming in and being the next Jauan Jennings-type of receiver at UT. Jennings capped off a stellar Vol career with a strong senior season this past year, leading the team in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns.
Jones would like to be used like Jennings was if possible.
“They say I’m a physical receiver that has the size and speed to be maybe the next Jauan Jennings,” Jones said of Tennessee’s message to him. “They see me as a boundary guy that can go up and get the ball and take the top off a bunch of defenses.”
But how does Jones see himself? At 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, he has the size and athleticism to out-physical corners, but he’s also quicker than you’d expect a wideout at that size.
Jones utilizes that size and his catching ability to his benefit, but he’s not satisfied with where he is right now.
“My size and ball skills, the play-making skills I possess,” Jones said of his strengths. “Some receivers just catch it, and that’s all their goal is, to catch the ball. If they get tackled, they get tackled. If they score, they score. My mindset is that every time I touch the rock, it’s going to the crib for six.
“I’m trying to polish up some of my route running, though. I’m trying to become a better route-runner, a more technician route-runner so it can benefit me at the next level.”
Prior to Tennessee offering Jones and before he got to visit UT’s campus, he knew a little bit about the Vols and what they offered. But after his visit and upon doing more research, Jones really liked what he learned about Tennessee.
“Before, I knew they were a powerhouse SEC team, and that state loves football,” Jones explained. “That’s all I knew before, but I did more research, and that university has a very rich tradition of not just football, but just sports in general. That’s a big sports school, very well-known worldwide.”
Jones already has a built-in connection at Tennessee, and that’s his former high school teammate Kenney Solomon. The rising sophomore defensive back was part of the Vols’ 2019 recruiting class and played as a reserve cornerback for UT this season, picking off a pass in Tennessee’s win over Chattanooga in September. Solomon was awarded an official scholarship in November.
According to Jones, Solomon’s time at Tennessee has made the Vols stand out to him even more, and there’s definitely an appeal to reunite with Solomon.
“He says he loves it,” Jones said of Solomon. “The academic support is amazing, man. He says it’s top notch. Being able to play with him again would be super fun. I got injured while we were playing together, so I really only got to play with him for two games.
“But who knows? Being able to play with him again, it could just be a dynamic duo.”
The recent COVID-19 outbreak has temporarily shut down all recruiting visits, and all recruiting camps are currently on hold or outright canceled as well. That put a big wrench in Jones’ summer plans.
Jones intended to go to several camps over the summer to try and prove himself against elite competition. But now his plans of attending Under Armour, Rivals, and other camps are much more cloudy.
“I just gotta see how COVID plays out,” Jones stated. “I still plan on taking some visits. Hopefully I can take some officials before the season starts.”
As of right now, Jones plans on cutting his top 10 to a top five once the current recruiting period closes, and those five schools will be the programs who get his official visits. He also plans on announcing a commitment before his senior season starts.
Of course, those plans are subject to change, and Jones’ timeline — and the timelines of recruits across the nation — are in limbo right now.
“But you know, with COVID, you really can’t tell, so I’m just taking it a day at a time right now.”