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TJ Jones, Part I: For The Record

During his senior season at Notre Dame, TJ Jones’ rise on Notre Dame’s receiving charts has been well documented.

Quietly, T.J. Jones has caught at least one pass in a record 37 consecutive Notre Dame games.

With his 165 career catches, Jones is on pace to finish second, behind only former teammate and first-round pick Michael Floyd on the all-time chart (271). The only other two ahead of him are two-time All-American Jeff Samardzija (179) and Rhema McKnight (170).

If he catches a touchdown pass against BYU on his Nov. 23 Senior Day, Jones will have nabbed a score in eight straight games, tying the school record set first by Samardzija (2005) and then equaled by Golden Tate during his Biletnikoff Award campaign in 2009.

Especially notable is that his 16.5 yards per catch this season on a team high 54 grabs dwarf his 9.6 yards average as a sophomore in 2011 when he was an afterthought on a corps that included Floyd and fellow first-rounder Tyler Eifert at tight end. Jones has demonstrated he can run every route in the book effectively, and carve through defenses long, short and intermediate.

But there is one Notre Dame record Jones set this month that has been under the radar. The past two weeks marked the 36th and 37th consecutive games he has caught a pass. Going through the archives, we discovered the second highest such streak was three-time All-American tight end Ken MacAfee’s 35 in a row in 1975 (all 11 games) and 1976-77 (12 games apiece). MacAfee did not catch a pass in the 1975 Orange Bowl win over Alabama during his freshman season.

In fairness, part of Jones’ record stems from better opportunity. Luminaries such as Jim Seymour (1966-68) and Tom Gatewood (1969-71) played in an era when freshmen were ineligible. Plus they had only 10-game regular seasons.

Tim Brown, Rocket Ismail and Derrick Mayes were not part of a passing culture at Notre Dame, although Brown did have some games even as a sophomore where he didn’t catch a pass, while an injury one time sidelined Ismail — who happens to be Jones’ godfather.

Samardzija didn’t blossom until his last two seasons, Golden Tate turned pro after his junior year, Floyd missed some playing time with injuries, and Eifert didn’t make a catch in the 2012 victory at Michigan State.

With his 5-11, 195-pound frame — which completely broke down in the final month of his freshman season when he was even smaller — Jones has become the poster boy of Cal Ripken Jr.-like consistency and durability on Notre Dame’s receiving corps. The streak began in the 33-17 Sun Bowl victory versus Miami his freshman year and has continued through the ensuing three seasons while playing through numerous ailments. It’s something, he notes, he probably could not have envisioned when he hit “that freshman wall” back in 2010.

“You see a lot of guys get hurt, you see a lot of injuries take place that you have no control over,” Jones said. “I’m very fortunate to have caught a pass in that many games in a row and it’s a blessing to not have a season-ending injury either — or really any injuries that cost me a game.”

The streak is a testament to reliability, which he considers more valuable than raw individual numbers.

“Being that guy that you can rely on, the team can rely on day in and day out to be the same guy on and off the field and to make those catches when they need it — I think that’s more important because I’m doing more for my teammates in that sense,” Jones said.

“A lot of the things that I’ve been able to accomplish, I didn’t know I was pushing for. It wasn’t something I was personally pushing for. It kind of just seemed to happen.”

It’s known as maximizing every opportunity and getting the most — and then some — out of one’s skills.

Next: Senior Day and what does Notre Dame have to play for?

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