Jones a vic­tim of new re­cruit­ing cal­en­dar

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - SPORTS -

Na­tional Sign­ing Day al­ways in­fat­u­ated Nikia Jones. The rev­elry. The drama. The op­ti­mism. The lim­it­less fu­ture. Jones al­ways dreamed of par­tic­i­pat­ing in sign­ing day. Cast­ing his lot with a uni­ver­sity.

Even when the NCAA added an ear­lier sign­ing date for foot­ball this re­cruit­ing sea­son, Jones was un­de­terred. He wanted no part of a De­cem­ber sign­ing, which at some high schools ar­rived when school al­ready was out for Christ­mas break.

So Jones waited. He waits still.

Not ev­ery sign­ing day story is rev­elry and joy.

Wed­nes­day in Wagoner, 15 miles north of Musko­gee, the Bull­dogs staged a sign­ing cer­e­mony. Line­backer Pa­trick Cur­ley signed with Texas Tech. Line­backer Steve Adair signed with North­east­ern State. Quar­ter­back Blake Du­mond signed to play soc­cer at North­east­ern State.

Jones, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound re­ceiver with four sea­sons of big plays that helped Wagoner win three state ti­tles and a state-record 48 straight games, sat on the bleach­ers watch­ing his pals sign.

“I just wished it was me,” Jones said Fri­day. “I’ve been want­ing to sign on na­tional sign­ing day for the long­est.”

Count Jones a vic­tim of the new NCAA re­cruit­ing cal­en­dar. Coaches like Mike Gundy and Lin­coln Ri­ley kept telling us they weren’t quite sure what would be all the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of a De­cem­ber sign­ing date. If they didn’t know, how was a kid from Wagoner County sup­posed to know?

“Frus­trat­ing to me,” said Wagoner coach Dale Con­dict. “I prob­a­bly feel like I could have done some­things bet­ter.”

But Con­dict is no stranger to the re­cruit­ing game. He was like ev­ery­one else. Just un­aware of all the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of the ear­lier date and how schol­ar­ships would fill up quick.

Con­dict calls Jones “Se­abis­cuit.” Low-key. Sort of just chills. Then come game time, “he could go.”

Jones scored 64 Wagoner touch­downs. He had over 3,000 yards re­ceiv­ing. Re­turned mul­ti­ple kick­offs, punts and in­ter­cep­tions for TDs. Jones caught the gamewin­ning touch­down in the 2015 Class 4A state cham­pi­onship game and the 80-yard TD play that put Wagoner in the 2014 4A ti­tle game.

Jones re­ceived a bunch of schol­ar­ship of­fers. From Iowa State and Wy­oming, North Texas and East­ern Michi­gan, Ore­gon State and Stephen F. Austin. Back in Oc­to­ber, Jones even de­cided to com­mit to Iowa State. But when he called the Cy­clones, they had moved on to other prospects.

Jones de­cided to wait some more. He was late qual­i­fy­ing aca­dem­i­cally but has qual­i­fied, so that might have scared off a few schools. Jones let the De­cem­ber date pass, and we all learned that De­cem­ber was the new Na­tional Sign­ing Day. Most schools signed the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of their re­cruits on that day. For in­stance, OU signed only three play­ers Wed­nes­day; OSU signed two.

“It was an an­ti­cli­mac­tic day, to be hon­est with you,” Ri­ley said. “Ex­cit­ing to get the whole class to­gether, but it was cer­tainly a strange feel­ing. It didn’t feel as much like sign­ing day, hon­estly. The one in De­cem­ber felt a lot more like the real sign­ing day than this one did, at least this year.”

This is the only year that mat­ters to Nikia Jones. Jones was sched­uled to visit Iowa two weeks ago, but the Hawkeyes called just be­fore the trip and can­celed. Jones’ re­cruiter had lost an in­ter­nal de­bate; the Hawkeyes were go­ing to give the schol­ar­ship to de­fense. The week­end be­fore sign­ing day, Jones was sched­uled to visit Ore­gon State. The day be­fore he was to leave, Jones got a call that the Beavers had re­ceived com­mit­ments from other play­ers. That trip was off, too.

“At this point, every­body’s pretty much full,” Jones said. “Who­ever gets me … not toot­ing my own horn, but I’m way too good to just be sit­ting here.”

Jones is vis­it­ing the Uni­ver­sity of Kansas on Mon­day. He’s not sure if there’s a schol­ar­ship avail­able. He won­ders if blue-shirt­ing is an op­tion. Blue-shirt­ing is a new-fan­gled method schools use to fudge schol­ar­ship num­bers — an un­re­cruited player (no of­fi­cial visit to that school and no home visit from that school) can be given a schol­ar­ship af­ter Au­gust camp opens but he won’t be el­i­gi­ble to play that sea­son. It’s a nar­row set of cir­cum­stances.

OU didn’t re­cruit Jones. OSU of­fered to make Jones a pre­ferred walkon, which means he would be a full-fledged mem­ber of the team but with­out schol­ar­ship aid, but that would have been a hard­ship on Jones’ fam­ily. North­east­ern A&M Ju­nior Col­lege is an op­tion, but that’s a risk. Get in­jured, and there will be no uni­ver­sity schol­ar­ship forth­com­ing.

“I feel like some­body’s go­ing to come through,” Con­dict said. He’s still talk­ing with a va­ri­ety of schools about Jones. Arkansas State. Texas State. New Mex­ico. Even Arkansas hasn’t closed the door.

And it’s not like Wagoner and Con­dict haven’t been through this be­fore. Kevin Peter­son, an OSU star and a cur­rent Los An­ge­les Ram, played at Wagoner and is Jones’ cousin.

Sev­eral Wagoner play­ers have signed ma­jor­col­lege schol­ar­ships in re­cent years.

But this time, with the con­ver­gence of a new sign­ing date, Jones played it wrong.

“At least com­mit,” Jones said of his ad­vice for play­ers in fu­ture years. “Show in­ter­est. Lock it down. If some­thing else comes along, re­con­sider. But get your­self some se­cu­rity. Don’t wait to the end.”

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at btramel@ok­la­homan. com. He can be heard Mon­day through Fri­day from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports An­i­mal ra­dio net­work, in­clud­ing FM-98.1. You can also view his per­son­al­ity page at newsok. com/berry­tramel.

[PHOTO BY STEVE SISNEY, THE OK­LA­HOMAN]

Nikia Jones scored 64 ca­reer touch­downs and had more than 3,000 yards re­ceiv­ing at Wagoner but was left with­out a team on Na­tional Sign­ing Day.

Berry Tramel btramel@ ok­la­homan.com

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