Notre Dame commit Jamir Jones' family has plenty to celebrate
Lakiescha Jones dances for so many reasons.
Here she is, standing smack dab in the middle of Notre Dame Stadium, watching her son trot across the field on Senior Day as applause rains from the splintering bleachers. This is the same son who, at Aquinas Institute in Rochester, N.Y., didn’t care enough to write down his homework assignments, let alone complete them.
Now, Jarron Jones is a few measly credits away from graduating from one of the most prestigious universities in the country.
But first, the senior defensive tackle is enjoying Senior Day — dressed in full uniform despite the torn right MCL that will keep him out of the game. It’s Nov. 14, a sunny Saturday in South Bend, and before Lakiescha hugs Jarron at midfield, she dances a joyous jig.
This day — this dance — was never guaranteed.
“Anybody that knows Jarron and knows us has seen the transformation of Jarron,” Lakiescha says. “He’s matured. Notre Dame did for me what they told me they were going to do. They said they were going to bring me back a man, and they’ve brought me back a man.”
And in turn, the Jones family provided another young man for Notre Dame.
Jamir Jones, Lakiescha’s youngest son, will sign with the Irish on Wednesday — accepting a full scholarship to play linebacker and perhaps defensive end. Next season, he and Jarron will share this stadium.
So Lakiescha keeps dancing, embracing an impossible dream.
“People don’t understand when I want to dance and I want to holler and scream and when I want to brag and boast,” Lakiescha says. “In my neighborhood and where Jarron and Jamir and all of us come from, this doesn’t happen. We’re not even talking about the football team. There are layers of blessings, and that’s just an extra layer.
“This is what people dream of. People pay money to do this thing. Look at Joe Schmidt. He gave up other scholarships to just be on this football team and go to Notre Dame. My kids get offered the opportunity walking in the door. Free. F-R-E-E. I have to pay nothing, so I enjoy the ride.”
Jamir Jones’ ride was never easy.
His older brother made sure of that.
“Jamir was very fearless,” Lakiescha said. “Jarron was always a big kid. That’s unmistakable, but Jamir never cared. He was a stubborn little kid. My mother recalls very vividly one time Jarron made him mad and he reared back and socked the crap out of Jarron. Jarron cried.
“It just showed the heart in Jamir. He never let Jarron punk him. It just made him tougher.”
Added Jamir: “There was always a sibling rivalry between us. There were always some fights, but he was my best friend growing up. He was there for me when I needed him.”
These days, Jamir isn’t so little. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound athlete won his second state championship at Aquinas Institute in 2015, piling up 98 tackles, 23 tackles for a loss, seven sacks and one interception in his senior season. This came a year after he pushed his defensive prowess to the back burner, agreeing to play quarterback after the team’s starter suffered an injury in the second game of the season.
“The next morning we learn that our quarterback’s wrist is broken,” Chris Battaglia, Aquinas Institute’s head coach, recalled. “He’s out for the season. He’s done. So before I can even call Jamir, Jamir calls me and says, ‘I’ll do whatever the team needs.’ I mean, where do you find a kid like that?”
The answer: Rochester, N.Y.
And soon, South Bend.
Lakiescha Jones isn’t crazy.
Determined? Sure. Demanding? Most definitely.
Though her tactics may seem extreme, few can argue with the results.
“People used to think I was crazy when Jarron was going through his recruiting process,” she said with a laugh. “Jarron had some behavioral issues at Aquinas that he was working on with maturity. He had an explosive episode with his D-line coach, and he got really upset with him and basically walked out of practice, which is a big no-no. No kid walks out of anybody’s practice, especially not at Notre Dame.
“Anybody knows that if anything is going on with my children, let me be aware of it. We can nip it in the bud and hopefully it won’t happen again. I talked to Jarron, but I also called (Notre Dame) coach (Mike) Elston and (former defensive coordinator) coach (Bob) Diaco. I made them aware of what had happened.
“People were like, ‘Are you crazy? They may not even want him now!’ I said, ‘Well the reason why I’m doing this is because if something like this happens up there at Notre Dame, they’re going to know what they’re dealing with.’ When I’m dealing with stuff, we’re all dealing with stuff.”
In Lakiescha Jones’ house, stuff got dealt with — swiftly. Disobedience wasn’t tolerated. And even when Jarron left home, the rules didn’t change.
“I recommended Jarron take yoga, because he was only taking one class until April,” Lakiescha said. “I said, ‘You’ve got a lot of time on your hands, and No. 2, yoga will not hurt you. It will help you.’ Some kids don’t listen to their parents, and my kid wasn’t moving fast enough. So I called him and said, ‘Did you sign up for yoga class?’ ‘No, I’m gonna, I’m gonna, I’m gonna.’
“I heard too many, ‘I’m gonna’s.’ I said, ‘OK, tell me who I can call to make sure it happens.’ He gave me (strength and conditioning coach Paul) Longo’s number, I called coach Longo, and there you have it.”
Of course, Lakiescha couldn’t give her sons more athletic ability, and Jarron and Jamir have plenty of that. She couldn’t will them to pass their classes or steer clear of the temptations beyond her reach.
But she could encourage them, and she did. She could cheer for them, and she did. She could discipline them, and she did.
If she didn’t, where would they be?
“Lakiescha’s a machine,” said Battaglia, who coached both Jarron and Jamir. “She’s a very involved mother. I don’t believe any of the boys would have made it to where they’ve made it without two quality parents and without Lakiescha being as involved as she is.
“When you’re a coach, you become close to people. But that family I’ve become very close to. She took nothing from any of her kids. She made them toe the line, and because they toed the line two of them are at Notre Dame and the other two have graduated from college.”
Regardless of his audience, Jamir Jones’ message never changed.
“I’m not going to commit. I’m not going to commit.”
“Even if they offer, I’m not going to commit.”
Because Jamir played quarterback throughout much of his junior season, he had very little defensive play on tape. And because he had limited tape, Notre Dame’s coaches couldn’t properly evaluate him.
That’s why Jamir was invited to participate in a camp at Notre Dame on June 23, to run through drills in front of some discerning Irish eyes.
If he impressed, Notre Dame would offer.
But he wasn’t going to commit.
“Jamir had told me when he was going to the Notre Dame camp that he wasn’t going to commit, because he really liked Penn State and he liked a couple other schools,” Battaglia said. “When he was there, I talked to him at like 10 o’clock, and he said, ‘It’s going great. I love it, but I’m not ready to commit. I’m going to go see coach Kelly, but I’m not going to commit.’
“Jamir told me 20 minutes before we left the hotel room that he was not going to commit that day,” Lakiescha added.
So, what happened? Jamir impressed, Notre Dame offered and he committed. Of course.
"I’ve come a long way, and that was another milestone for me,” Jamir said. “My mom started screaming. I think everybody in the whole building heard her.”
Don’t be surprised if Lakiescha Jones keeps dancing.
After all, she has plenty of reasons to. Next fall, Jarron — who returns for his fifth and final season of eligibility — will play alongside Jamir, who is still fearless. Lakiescha and her husband, Matt, will share an apartment with Jarron, so they can spend long weekends in South Bend and cook dinner for the defensive linemen.
This is why Lakiescha and Matt, both nurses, piled up all those double shifts so their kids could attend Aquinas Institute. It’s why Lakiescha signed them up for every available sport, to keep them involved and out of trouble. It’s why Lakiescha and Matt, both of whom never received college degrees, kept pushing them towards something greater.
They did it for days like Wednesday, when Jamir will sign on the dotted line. They sacrificed so that, one day, their sons might make it to Notre Dame Stadium together.
“In our culture, we are more expressive. When we’re happy, we dance,” Lakiescha said. “That’s what we do. When we’re sad, we sing to bring ourselves out of something. For some of us, that’s the way we celebrate. And to see how far my boys have come, this year I’m going to dance some more.”