LB target Jonathan Jones ready for Notre Dame experience

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Jonathan Jones had one request for his official visit to Notre Dame: that Irish linebacker Jaylon Smith would be his host.

Notre Dame’s star linebacker has become a role model for many of Notre Dame’s defensive recruits and Jones shares the same sentiment.

“I keep on hearing about Jaylon Smith like crazy,” said Jones, a 6-foot-1, 209-pound linebacker from Orlando, Fla.

Notre Dame typically uses younger players as hosts on official visits, but the opportunity to at least meet Smith will likely be a part of Jones’ two days on campus. However, Jones chose to schedule a visit to South Bend for reasons unrelated to seeing one of the top college football players in the country.

“It's Notre Dame,” Jones said. “It’d be very disrespectful if Notre Dame offers and you don't consider to go up there and see what it's about. They're a very historic program even without football. To get the chance to go up there is a blessing.”

Jones will arrive on campus Friday with his father. He’s ready to get a sense for how he would fit in at Notre Dame.

“I'm hoping to learn about the atmosphere, how rigorous the courses are, how the players like the coaches and how the coaches coach,” Jones said.

With an interest in business, Jones has been studying up on the Mendoza College of Business at Notre Dame. Earlier this week, he learned that “Businessweek” named it the top undergraduate business school each of the last five years.

“That's pretty huge,” Jones said. “I want to see what those courses look like.”

A bye week in his football schedule at Oak Ridge High School has given Jones an easy travel schedule for his Notre Dame visit. He can enjoy the weekend without conflicting with his senior season.

The Pioneers are off to a 4-0 start.

“It's gone way better than what many people projected us to be,” Jones said. “We have a huge game coming up, Dr. Phillips, after this week. We're training for them every day."

Jones has dedicated himself to improving in pass defense and his play has shown it. He intercepted two passes in his first four games. Jones credits the improvement to the teaching he received at The Opening Finals, a national invite-only camp at Nike World Headquarters.

“My pass drops have been amazing right now,” Jones said. “I'm always in the passing lanes. I'm better breaking on the ball and forcing overthrows.”

The versatility from Jones has caused uncertainty on whether he projects better as an inside or outside linebacker. 247Sports slates him as a four-star recruit and the No. 20 outside linebacker in the 2016 class. Rivals rates him as a three-star prospect and No. 17 at inside linebacker.

CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said he likes Jones more than another Notre Dame linebacker target, Aaron Hansford, who visited the Irish last week.

“He's makes plays from sideline to sideline,” Lemming said of Jones. “He's one of the more underrated linebackers in the country. He's a hard-hitting guy. He sticks his nose into the play. He's not afraid of contact."

Jones has been hearing positive things about Notre Dame for months and will finally get to see the school in person this weekend. The two loudest voices in his Irish recruitment may belong to running backs coach Autry Denson and offensive line commit Parker Boudreaux.

“We have a great relationship,” Jones said of Denson. “We have conversations about football, commitment, life, preparing for games. He's a great guy. If I don't pick Notre Dame, he'll still impact my life."

Boudreaux, who is also from Orlando, hasn’t been afraid to tell Jones to commit to Notre Dame. He checks in with Jones from time to time to remind him.

Jones’ visit to Notre Dame will be his first official visit. He has tentative plans for official visits to Syracuse in October, Duke in November and Michigan in December. His fifth visit could go to Florida State, if the Seminoles offer him, South Carolina, Pittsburgh, Indiana or Colorado, Jones said.

His focus has turned to a smaller number of schools, but a commitment is not imminent.

"All I really know is that I want to see all the schools before I commit,” Jones said. “I want to take all my officials and really evaluate all the options."

First up: Notre Dame.

tjames@ndinsider.com | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Linebacker target Jonathan Jones signed with Notre Dame on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of Student Sports)