Notre Dame adds TE Aliz'e Jones to 2015 recruiting class

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

If Aliz’e Jones’ Thursday verbal commitment never actually engenders a western recruiting pipeline for Notre Dame, Irish head football coach Brian Kelly may very well look back at it as a recruiting milestone of sorts anyway.

The day he pickpocketed bitter recruiting rival UCLA and convinced the nation’s No. 1 tight end prospect that his future was better served in South Bend, Ind.

“Play next year?” 247Sports director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong rolled around his mind for all about a second. “He’s going to play in the (2015) opener.”

“I think he’s going to be a first-round NFL Draft choice in a few years,” puffed CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming, who rates Jones as a five-star prospect, the nation’s No. 18 player regardless of position, and the top prospect in an Irish 2015 recruiting class that swelled to 23 commitments and early enrollees and burst back into the nation’s top 10 classes on Thursday.

“As a college player, he’s got to learn college blocking schemes. But Notre Dame will be able to use his receiving skills right away.”

And in the bigger picture, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Jones joining fellow commit safety Nicco Fertitta and Irish junior starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley, all products of national prep football power Las Vegas Bishop Gorman, on the 2015 ND roster could be the start of a trend.

According to recently promoted Gorman head coach Kenny Sanchez, the school’s defensive coordinator the past six years, Gorman will send at least seven players to FBS schools on scholarship in this cycle.

“Maybe more,” he said. “It’s a pretty good senior class.”

And the younger classes at the nation’s consensus No. 1 football team in 2014 are loaded as well, per Lemming. That includes the grandson of boxing great Muhammad Ali, Biaggio Ali Walsh, a 5-11, 185-pound sophomore running back who is purportedly the fastest player on a Gorman squad that won its 13th state title in football last month.

The school has won multiple state titles in 10 other sports and seven in the realm of mock trials.

“Everything Notre Dame has done with these Gorman kids is smart and could lead to a long-term relationship,” Lemming said.

In the short term, mid-round draft prospect Ben Koyack moves on, leaving ND now five young tight end prospects eager to show they’re the next great one in the Troy Niklas-Tyler Eifert-Kyle Rudolph-John Carlson-Anthony Fasano lineage with roots that go decades back.

All five have at least three years of college football eligibility remaining. Sophomore Durham Smythe saw the most action among them this past season, followed by true freshman Tyler Luatua.

Sophomore Mike Heuerman, who has battled injuries, and freshman Nic Weishar did not see any game action.

“Smythe has the most experience and is the most well-rounded,” Wiltfong said. “But Aliz’e has the highest ceiling. When he walks in the door, at 19, he’ll be able to be that flex tight end right away. And by the time he’s 21, he’ll be the complete package.”

Speed is the separator at this juncture of his career. Jones averaged 22.7 yards a catch in 2014, with 41 receptions for 930 yards and 13 TDs. Sanchez says Jones consistently runs the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds and projects him as a 4.5 guy in college.

“My guys had to go against him every day in practice for the last four years,” Sanchez said, reflecting on his time as Bishop Gorman’s defensive coordinator. “It was tough, but it was fun and it made our defense a lot better, I can tell you that.

“The best part was sometimes I got to use him on defense — in big games, when special opportunities came up. We’d put him at defensive end and just send him off the edge, and he did a great job there too. But he’s so dynamic on offense. And the great thing about it is all that talent comes in a very humble package and in a guy that works as hard as anyone.”

UCLA worked hard enough to get a verbal commitment out of Jones 15 months ago. Notre Dame was one of the finalists back then, along with Georgia, Nebraska, Tennessee and Baylor.

The Irish coaching staff never took their foot off the gas, though. And in September, he came for an unofficial visit and took in ND’s 31-0 dismissing of Michigan. He came back in December for an official visit.

On Thursday, he decommitted from the Bruins and committed to ND in a manner of minutes and all on the Twitter-sphere. He becomes the fourth member of the Irish recruiting class that spent time in someone else’s recruiting class, joining quarterback Brandon Wimbush (Penn State), linebacker Josh Barajas (Penn State) and cornerback Shawn Crawford (Michigan).

"I started watching a lot of Notre Dame football games, and I saw how they use tight ends,” Jones told the South Bend Tribune on Dec. 31. “I knew what they did with Tyler Eifert, because I was a big fan of his.

“It didn't stand out to me at the time, because I was so set on UCLA. Once I kept watching their games, I realized how much they use their tight ends. I like how they flex them out wide, and that's a big part of my game, athleticism. I really liked it. They run all different routes.

“(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. It's amazing. They have a great history of putting guys in the NFL. Even if that doesn't work I'm going to my degree. That's something I promised my parents.”

Below are senior highlights of Jones, via Hudl. 574-235-6112

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)

Where Notre Dame’s 2015 football recruits fall in CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming’s top 300 nationally:

18. Aliz’e Jones, TE

30. Brandon Wimbush, QB

37. Tristen Hoge, C

58. Shaun Crawford, CB

64. Miles Boykin, WR

109. Josh Barajas, LB

118. Asmar Bilal, LB

199. Bo Wallace, DE

212. Te’von Coney, LB

231. Prentice McKinney, S

253. Brandon Tiassum, DT

258. Elijah Taylor, DT

266. Nicco Fertitta, S

292. Mykelti Williams, S