East Carolina’s Jones might set FBS re­ceiv­ing record vs. Navy

Baltimore Sun - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Bill Wag­ner Bal­ti­more Sun Me­dia Group reporter Phil Davis con­trib­uted to this ar­ti­cle.

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⁄

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