East Carolina’s Jones might set FBS receiving record vs. Navy
In hindsight, it’s hard to believe so many schools allowed Isaiah “Zay” Jones to get out of Texas.
Jones concedes he would have preferred to play college football in his home state, but schools such as Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor showed no interest.
Believing he was a Football Bowl Subdivision player, Jones used a family connection to get a look. Robert Jones, Zay’s father, is one of the greatest players in East Carolina football history — the only consensus All-American to come through the program and a member of the school’s athletic Hall of Fame.
Zay Jones sent his high school highlight tape to East Carolina and coach Ruffin McNeill could not believe the present that had been dropped into his lap.
“Coach McNeill called me a couple days later and said that East Carolina was my home and that he wanted to see me in Purple and Gold,” Jones said. “I really took that to heart and committed.”
Jones was rated a threestar recruit and posted modest statistics at the prep level.
“I was a late bloomer in high school. I didn’t really peak physically until my senior year,” said Jones, who had a delayed growth spurt. Four years later, Jones is one of the best wide receivers in college football and on the verge of a major milestone. The 6-foot-1, 197-pound senior is eight short of setting the FBS record for career catches.
Coincidentally, the mark is held by former East Carolina wide receiver Justin Hardy, now with the Atlanta Falcons. Hardy had 387 receptions during his time in Greenville, a standard Jones might surpass Saturday against Navy.
Jones did not hesitate when asked how he went from overlooked recruit to recordsetting performer.
“Just my resiliency and persistence. Being told no and being told you can’t is highly motivating,” he said.
This season, Jones leads the FBS in four categories: total receptions (139), receiving yards (1,473), receptions per game (13.9) and receiving yards per game (147.3).
Jones, who was recently named one of 10 semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s best receiver, needs 17 catches to set the FBS single-season record. That mark is owned by Bowling Green’s Freddie Barnes, who had 155 catches in 2009.
East Carolina wide receivers coach Phil McGeoghan said Jones possesses a slew of intangible qualities that separate him from the competition.
“First and foremost, Zay has tremendous character, both personal and as a football player. He competes very hard every day and is just a pleasure to be around,” McGeoghan said. Jones set a single-game school record with 22 receptions in a loss to South Carolina. He continues to make double-digit catches every game despite being double- and triple-teamed.
“We’ve seen it all as far as coverages. There’s no surprise that we’re going to throw the ball to No. 7 on Saturday, so teams have tried everything to try to stop Zay,” McGeoghan said. “We’ll move him around so defenses can’t totally key on him. It doesn’t matter what the scheme is. Zay has still gotten open more than any receiver in the country.”
Whether it’s this Saturday or the next, Jones will no doubt set the NCAArecord for career receptions and acknowledged that the magnitude of the accomplishment is mind-boggling.
“It’s hard to imagine doing something that’s never been done. That’s something to be really, really proud of,” Jones said. “There are Hall of Fame receivers that didn’t make as many catches during their college careers. It is something I would be very grateful to have happen and cherish forever.”
Since it was established in 1994, the Biletnikoff Award has gone to a who’s who of great receivers, including Randy Moss (Marshall, 1997), Larry Fitzgerald (Pittsburgh, 2003), Calvin Johnson (Georgia Tech, 2006) and Amari Cooper (Alabama, 2014). Naturally, Jones would love to add his name to that list.
“Hearing my name called for that award would mean the world for me. It’s something I have dreamed about: to be able to say that I was the nation’s best,” Jones said. “If I did win, it wouldn’t just be for me. It would be for East Carolina and the city of Greenville.”
NOTE: The 117th Army-Navy game at M&TBank Stadium is sold out, according to a Ravens spokesperson. In a release, the team announced that the game Dec. 10 between Navy (7-2) and Army West Point (5-5) has officially sold out. M&T Bank Stadium holds 71,008 fans, according to the Ravens. Navy holds a significant lead in the overall series, 60-49-7, dating to the first game Nov. 29, 1890. Saturday, 4 p.m. TV: ESPNews Radio: 1090 AM, 1430 AM Line: Navy by 71⁄