Florida LB Jonathan Jones picks Notre Dame on National Signing Day

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

The celebration of signing day wasn’t going to interrupt Jonathan Jones’ routine.

Hours after sending his National Letter-of-Intent to Notre Dame, the 6-foot, 200-pound proceeded with his daily workout. Nothing was more important at that time.

It’s no wonder why head coach Brian Kelly and running backs coach Autry Denson both named leadership as one of the qualities to highlight in Jones during their brief descriptions of him Wednesday.

Signing day wasn’t the end of anything for Jones. In his mind, his recruitment ended following his official visit to Michigan in December. When he returned home to Orlando, Jones said he called the Irish to give a silent commitment to Kelly. Seven weeks later, he was ready to share that decision with the world.

“I felt that’s where God was leading me to go,” Jones said on his cell phone after wrapping out his workout. “It was like he shut the door for the other schools and it sounded like those other schools weren’t where I was supposed to go. Notre Dame was my finalist, so that’s where I went.”

Following his silent commitment, Jones made a visit to Central Florida. His scheduled trip to Duke was cancelled due to the snow storm that hit the East Coast in January. To Jones, it was another sign that he made the right decision.

With his mind set on Notre Dame, Jones shifted his focus to loftier goals.

“I see myself coming in and starting off right,” Jones said.

“It’s not going to be given to me, but I’m working my butt off in this offseason to get where I need to get to. I have the strength and conditioning papers already. We’ve been training since football season has been over with. I’m coming into Notre Dame ready to start wherever I need to play.”

Whether that’s at middle linebacker, where Joe Schmidt used to roam, or outside linebacker, the spot formerly manned by Jaylon Smith, Jones believes he can push for a starting spot. And if those goals aren’t bold enough for you, there’s more.

When asked about his expectations for his freshman season, Jones doesn’t hesitate to answer. He plans to be a freshman All-American and win the Heisman Trophy.

Never mind that Rivals rates Jones as a three-star recruit and the No. 19 outside linebacker in the 2016 class. Jones couldn’t care less that 247Sports slates him as a four-star recruit and the No. 18 inside linebacker in the class.

Jones wants to be the best. In the country.

Self-confidence and leadership. Jones has plenty of it.

“Leadership has a lot to do with integrity,” Jones said. “It has a lot to do with doing the right thing. You can only be a leader if you have followers. You come around and people will follow.” 

Denson, who recruited Jones, believes in that leadership.

“Leadership and intellect-wise, he is Joe Schmidt,” Denson said. “That’s who he is, and that’s a heck of a compliment, and that’s a very big expectation for Jonathan to live up to, which he will.”

To a lesser degree than Schmidt, Jones may have been overlooked on account of his size.

“Physically maybe his lack of height scared some people away,” said Kelly, “but just great instincts as a linebacker, great leadership quality, physically strong, fit, athletic, and has a great awareness in the pass game as well. For us, he just looked like the consummate linebacker, had all that innate ability and football recognition that you don't have to teach.”

Jones was the lone signing day addition to a class that already included five early enrollees and 17 verbal commitments. Together they make a 23-man class that never wavered from Notre Dame following their pledges.

No last-minutes changes of heart made for an enjoyable day at Notre Dame. No drama? No problem.

“It's awesome. I think that everybody should try it once in their career,” Kelly said. “There's no drama because I think we did a great job of knowing and really getting to know our guys, who we were signing, why they were coming to Notre Dame, and really asking the questions. Is this the right place for you? We don't want you to commit unless you're totally invested, and we say this to them.”

The lack of decommitment drama was replaced by disappointment with the remaining top targets. Five-star linebackers Ben Davis (Alabama) and Caleb Kelly (Oklahoma) and four-star linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch (Texas) signed elsewhere.

The pursuit of five-star wide receiver Demetris Robertson will continue for the foreseeable future. Notre Dame, Alabama, Georgia, Georgia Tech and Stanford all appear to remain in the blurry picture. But Robertson’s a talent worth the wait. The Irish sent the equipment truck his way for a reason.

A late addition of Robertson could push Notre Dame’s class back into the top 10 nationally after several teams jumped them on Wednesday.

Robertson will be a reminder that signing day isn’t the finish line in a recruiting world that never truly stops spinning. Notre Dame already extended multiple offers in the 2017 class on Wednesday.

No time to celebrate. Time to get back to work.

CLASS RANKINGS

Notre Dame’s 2016 class fell just outside the top 10 nationally following signing day.

Rivals – No. 12

247Sports – No. 12

Scout – No. 13

ESPN – No. 16

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

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