Incoming Notre Dame TE Alizé Jones eyes immediate impact

FRESHMAN FOCUS

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Alizé Jones had two choices:

Catch the football, or pick his teeth out of the grass.

Jones, perhaps Notre Dame’s next big thing at tight end, was 7 years old, and his father, a former baseball player, knew only one way to teach his son how to catch. He threw the football like a pitcher peppering the strike zone — again, again, again.

The kid learned, because he had to.

“He used to just chuck the ball at my face. And eventually, I got used to catching it,” Jones said with a chuckle. “I never really got afraid of how hard the ball was coming at me. I had to use my fingers and not catch with the palm of my hand.”

Now, fast-forward more than a decade. Jones, ranked by some as the finest high school tight end in the country in the 2015 recruiting cycle, stands in a grass field in front of a rash of palm trees in Las Vegas, pumping his arms under the April sun. He wears orange shorts, teal blue socks, bright yellow shoes and no shirt.

But somehow, the flashiest part of the whole ensemble is his hands.

Predictably, a football whizzes in his general direction, and Jones stops it, effortlessly deadening the pigskin in his massive right glove. He flips the ball back, and then it comes again, and he absorbs it like a magnet. It is an extraordinary routine completed with utter nonchalance, a skill sharpened with a decade-old blade. The footballs spray high and wide, and his elastic right arm extends to snag them.

Again. Again. Again.

Ordinary just isn't enough.. pic.twitter.com/sbzj5ZR5KP

— Alize Jones (@AlizeJones8) April 13, 2015//

This — along with his 6-foot-5 frame and 34-inch vertical leap — is why Jones garnered scholarship offers from the likes of Notre Dame, Auburn, Georgia, Nebraska, Tennessee, UCLA, USC and more. It’s why he piled up 930 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns last season while playing for prep national champion Bishop Gorman, and no one seemed surprised.

It’s why a skinny freshman is poised to play — and maybe start — in his first season at Notre Dame.

“Cordell Broadus got all of the attention (at Bishop Gorman) last year because he was Snoop Dogg’s son. Jones was a much, much better player,” said CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of the UCLA-bound wide receiver. “And he played the best teams in the country, and every game he looked great. Jones is a legit difference-maker at tight end.”

That may be true, but Jones was the last to see it.

“As a freshman in high school moving up to varsity, I was nervous, because I didn’t really know how good of a player I was,” Jones said. “I was kind of playing football for fun. I didn’t have any dreams of playing in college until my sophomore year, when I got my first offer (from UCLA) and I knew that I was good.

“I was just out there playing.”

Once he recognized his gifts, Jones dedicated himself to improving them. As he grew, the electric tight end got stronger, faster, smarter. Three touchdowns in his sophomore season morphed into 10 the next season, then 13. And as his numbers multiplied, so did the offers.

“My sophomore year, all these articles started coming out,” he explained. “At the time, I was reading them, and I was so excited about the recruiting process. I wanted to meet coaches. Coaches would come in, and I’d be nervous. I had my first interview, and I thought, ‘Man, I could really get used to this lifestyle.’

“I didn’t want that much attention. But at the same time, that’s when I really fell in love with the sport. I love to compete and go hard and really showcase my talent. And I knew I was blessed with a lot. Throughout the season, being able to make plays, people would tell me, ‘Some of the things that you do…you make it look easy.’ It kind of stuck with me. I just really want to show the world what I can do.”

Cue Notre Dame. After initially committing to UCLA, Jones flipped to the Irish in January, swayed by the history of prestige at his position and the opportunities ahead.

Opportunities that extend above the goal posts and beyond the furthest reaches of his blossoming career.

“A lot of people just focus on football and getting out in three years,” Jones said. “But the education is the best of the best, and I’m going to meet so many people there. I’m looking forward to building relationships with students, with players, with teachers. I want to pick their brains, see how they view the world.

“You’re going to be around so many great people, and I think that’s what Notre Dame had to offer that was way better than UCLA. The alumni (base) at Notre Dame is insane. When you’re around success, that’s going to rub off on you, and you’re going to be successful. I want to be pushed, and I know I’m going to be pushed to the limit at Notre Dame.”

When he arrives on campus this summer, Jones will undoubtedly be pushed — academically, and especially athletically. In order to see the field, he will first have to address his biggest knock.

“He didn’t have to do a whole lot (of blocking) at Gorman,” Lemming said. “He’s going to have to, or he’s not going to play.”

Jones, who has shot up from 220 to 238 pounds in recent months, has heard all of the questions, despite an active attempt to avoid reading recruiting stories and perusing message boards at every turn. And since putting his stamp on a remarkable prep career, he has turned to his weaknesses, and started chipping away.

“I’m not too worried about route-running or working against DB’s and linebackers, because that’s going to come. I’m going to get used to the style and speed of college football,” he said. “But I have to make sure I get my blocking down. That’s something that I’m really working hard with, and I’m only going to get better when I get out there.”

There, meaning Notre Dame Stadium.

And, just maybe, across the line from Texas on Sept. 5.

Occasionally, Jones visualizes that day, the moment when hours spent nabbing eye-level passes from his father land him on a national stage. He approaches the transition with an unnatural calm, insisting that his high school jump from JV to varsity was more daunting than the one to come.

He finds that he is more anxious than nervous — an athletic outlier with his eyes set on the prize.

“Lately, a lot of people have been asking me, ‘Are you ready for college? You guys have Texas, USC, Georgia Tech, Clemson.’ I’m really excited,” Jones said. I’m just ready to get going, man.

“I’m shaking, because I’m thinking about the future and everything that can happen if I continue to work and perfect my craft.”

Soon, opposing defensive coordinators may be shaking, too.

mvorel@ndinsider.com

574-235-6428

Twitter: @mikevorel

Incoming Notre Dame tight end Alize Jones is looking to make an immediate impact. (Photo courtesy of Las Vegas Sun)

Today's feature story on Notre Dame incoming freshman tight end Alizé Jones is the third in an ongoing weekly series of profiles taking a look at the members of the incoming Irish freshman football class.

Previous stories:

K Justin Yoon embraces pressure of starting opportunity

Safety signee Mykelti Williams bides time before joining Notre Dame