Jones a victim of new recruiting calendar
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.
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.