Top TE prospect Alize Jones still torn on Notre Dame, UCLA

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Alize Jones remains committed to UCLA, but he still has one big question for the Bruins.

Can four years in head coach Jim Mora’s program develop him into an NFL tight end? After a December official visit to South Bend, Jones has little doubt that Notre Dame can.

“(Irish tight ends) coach (Scott) Booker sat me down in the film room and showed me all the film of the great tight ends that have played there,” Jones said Wednesday via phone. “It's amazing. They have a great history of putting guys in the NFL.”

Jones didn’t need a complete history lesson. He was a fan of former Notre Dame star Tyler Eifert when he finished his Irish career in 2012 with the John Mackey Award for the nation’s top collegiate tight end. But it took some prodding from the Notre Dame coaching staff to show Jones why Eifert was successful and that it extended beyond just one player.

“Once I kept watching their games, I realized how much they use their tight ends,” Jones said. “I like how they flex them out wide, and that's a big part of my game, my athleticism. I really liked it. They run all the different routes.”

The blocking responsibilities for tight ends at Notre Dame added another layer to the equation. Jones started to realize he would need those skills as well to make it to the NFL. Now he wants to see if UCLA can match that kind of development.

“I want to see that they can actually use a tight end as a true tight end,” Jones said. “Anyone that has a desire to go to the NFL has to be able to block. I haven't really seen UCLA put guys down in the dirt that much.”

Keeping an eye on the NFL makes sense for an elite four-star prospect like Jones. 247Sports slates Jones as the No. 1 tight end in the 2015 class. Rivals ranks him second. He finished his senior season at Las Vegas Bishop Gorman with 41 catches for 930 yards and 13 touchdowns.

The Bruins will get another chance to convince Jones later in January when he plans to visit campus. Jones likely won’t make another visit to Notre Dame, but head coach Brian Kelly is expected to make an in-home visit for the Irish. Neither events can take place until after the NCAA recruiting dead period expires on Jan. 14.

Currently Jones is in San Antonio preparing for Saturday’s U.S. Army All-American Bowl. He’s joined by five Irish commits, all of which are on the West team with Jones.

“Being out here with all of these guys has been great,” Jones said. “The competition is amazing. I'm going up against guys who are the best at what they do. That's only going to get me better and get me prepared for the next level.”

Practicing alongside offensive linemen Tristen Hoge and Jerry Tillery and against linebackers Josh Barajas and Asmar Bilal and safety Nicco Fertitta has forced Jones to have Notre Dame on his mind for much of the week. The group continues to remind him of the visit he made to South Bend in December.

“I had a great time out there,” Jones said of his official visit to Notre Dame. “I was around coach Booker a lot, (offensive coordinator Mike) Denbrock. I talked to coach Kelly before I left. I hung out with a bunch of recruits out there: Jerry Tillery, Nicco and (quarterback commit) Brandon Wimbush. We got pretty close and I've been texting (Wimbush) back and forth while he's at the Under Armour game. He's always on me about Notre Dame. Nicco and Jerry are always in my ear. They're good guys."

Fertitta, a friend and teammate at Bishop Gorman, helped keep Jones interested in the Irish. The two also visited Notre Dame in September for its victory over Michigan.

“Notre Dame has shown me everything I needed to see from the education standpoint to the offense to where I'll be living and the guys I'll be around,” Jones said. “They showed me everything. I'm pretty comfortable with them.”

His commitment is far from settled, but Jones plans on finalizing a decision before signing day in February. He didn’t anticipate this struggle when he verbally committed to the Bruins back in November 2013. It’s a position he’s happy to be facing.

"It's been pretty stressful, but I'm enjoying it at the same time,” Jones said. “This is something that happens once in a lifetime.”

Las Vegas Bishop Gorman tight end Alize Jones verbally committed to Notre Dame on Thursday. Jones is ranked as one of the nation's top tight ends in the 2015 class. (Photo courtesy of Las Vegas Sun)