Monday, April 28, 2014
Back home, Jones set to complete journey
By Matt Fortuna
Modest would be one way to describe the way TJ Jones handled himself during his decorated four-year career at Notre Dame. Ask Jones to sell himself to his future NFL bosses, however, and the former Irish receiver wastes few breaths.
TJ Jones, a 2013 team MVP, is expected to be a mid-round pick in the NFL draft.
"You should pick me because, in my opinion, I'm the model of consistency," Jones told ESPN.com. "I came in as a freshman at Notre Dame, I started all four years, I've gotten better each and every year, with graduating in three-and-a-half years as a senior captain in the record books at Notre Dame, and I'm nowhere near my best. This is me getting better after four years.
"Imagine four years from now. I'm only 21 right now. I'm young for my [grade], so I have plenty of time to mature and to get better than where I'm at now."
He did forget to mention his team MVP honors from 2013. Forgive him; his degree wasn't in marketing.
While many of his former teammates stayed in South Bend, Ind., after Notre Dame's pro day, Jones is spending the home stretch of the pre-draft process back home in Atlanta. His preparation includes strength and footwork training at DSA Training in Marietta, Ga., and it also includes being back under the same roof as his mother and three of his five siblings, a welcome reprieve that he says helps make up for lost time after four years in college. The last of those years away included 70 catches, 1,108 yards, nine touchdowns and plenty of heads turned during the future pro's biggest job rehearsal.
In the months since, Jones has relied heavily on his godfather, former Notre Dame great Raghib Ismail, whose biggest words of advice have been to invest in his body, something Jones -- who checked in at six feet, 188 pounds at the NFL scouting combine -- has taken to heart during these past four months of training.
"I think that the biggest area I needed to improve was my physical strength, my weight, being able to carry 195-200 strong without losing any speed and being able to physically handle myself at the NFL level," Jones said. "And I think in the three or four months I've been able to -- not at the ideal weight I want right now -- but with the weight I've gained, I've been able to also maximize the strength and the speed of the game as well and not losing any quickness or speed with [the addition of] a couple pounds as well."
Jones' family has given him needed space during his time back home, careful not to overload him with questions similar to the ones he's been getting from everywhere else since completing his college career. Group text messaging has kept him in touch with his fellow Irish teammates going through the same process as him, as it has with the receivers behind at Notre Dame looking to fill his void. (That includes the academically-exiled DaVaris Daniels, whom Jones expects to return to the team and "make the impact that most people should be expecting.")
Still, the lead-up to next week's NFL draft has carried a bittersweet taste for Jones, who lost his father Andre to a brain aneurysm in the summer of 2011 at the age of 42. Pursuing the professional dream was something often discussed between Jones and his father, who was a starting end on the Irish's 1988 national title team.
On the doorstep of completing that journey, Jones knows his father is looking down on him with a smile.
"I would hope to think he's real proud," said Jones, a projected mid-round pick. "Definitely having my degree already in my kitchen right now and being able to go through this process and -- I don't want to say expect to be drafted, but having the opportunity to be drafted, hearing there's talk about me being drafted, it was enough in itself for him to really be proud because that's something we've talked about since I was a kid, since I really could remember."