Jones Growing Up, Playing Big

T.J. Jones has seen both his confidence and understanding of what’s required of a wide receiver at this level grow in the three years he has suited up for the Notre Dame football team. He is, after all, in South Bend to get an education, so he looks at his maturation on the football field to this point as his midterm examination.

Junior receiver T.J. Jones is figuring things out on and off the field for Notre Dame

“I’m closer to being a complete receiver than when I first came in,” said Jones, who plucked a seven-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Tommy Rees in overtime to lift the Fighting Irish over No. 17 Stanford last Saturday. “I take pride in blocking, not only in pass plays, but blocking on run plays. Every play on the field, to me, I take pride in that. Whereas, when I first came in, I just wanted to get the ball; I just wanted to make plays with the ball and not really caring about the run game.”

That play made against the Cardinal is the high-water mark of his career to this point, as well as an example of how the Notre Dame offense functions when the experienced Rees is under center and the trust the coaching staff has in Jones to deliver.

“Myself and [Robby] Toma were lined up to the field [side], and they had man coverage on us,” Jones explained. “Initially it was a run play, but Tommy saw they had man on us and checked it to slants. I beat the corner inside and he threw the ball behind me and it was a life-or-death situation. I knew if I didn’t catch the ball, I better give it my all to try and catch it. I adjusted to the ball and held on.

“It was a huge relief. I wasn’t really sure what to do. I wanted to jump up and throw the ball. It was definitely a lot of excitement that came when I saw [the official] put his arms up.”

The 5-11, 190-pound Jones is second only to senior tight end Tyler Eifert in receiving yards with 235, and has one less reception (19 total) than team-leader Theo Riddick (senior). Both Jones and Eifert have two touchdown receptions apiece. Last Saturday’s snag, which secured a 6-0 start and helped Notre Dame debut at No. 5 in the first BCS rankings, should have earned Jones plenty of praise around campus this week.

“This week is fall break, so there isn’t anyone on campus,” he said. “Previous weeks, there’s definitely been a different buzz on campus. It’s more lively and it seems students and faculty are more into the season this year than they have been in the past.”

So is Jones, who, albeit briefly, considered leaving school when his father, former Irish linebacker and member of the 1988 national championship team Andre Jones, passed away suddenly in June of 2011 because of a brain aneurysm. The sorrow from the untimely loss is still with the Roswell, Ga. Native, who is navigating the final stages of a transition from child to man without the man who taught him everything he knew.

Winning football games doesn’t fill that void, but it helps dull the pain. For Jones and his teammates, the sweat and adherence to head coach Brian Kelly’s plan is paying off.

“It is satisfying to an extent to see that the hard work we’ve been putting in over the past two years coming into this season is starting to all finally click together,” he said. “We just remain focused.”

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