Notre Dame football: Jones ready to make a big splash
SOUTH BEND -- Running a route across the middle, TJ Jones knows exactly what’s going to happen.
It’s going to hurt.
Diving in a tank with seven large sharks swimming around?
Not quite as predictable.
That’s one of the major differences between the 5-foot-11, 195-pound senior receiver’s role on the Notre Dame football team, and the dream he has come to embrace.
Since a childhood vacation to see Shamu, a whale and star attraction at SeaWorld Orlando, Jones has been fascinated by underwater life.
About a month ago, the fascination became much more of a reality.
After earning his diving certification over the Fourth of July weekend, Jones was off to Orlando for a job shadow a week later.
Just a few minutes under water, a light shined through the shadow.Jones found his comfort zone.
“I had no clue what to expect,” Jones said Sunday, before the Irish packed up preseason camp and headed to Marion, Ind. “(SeaWorld officials) said I was diving into a tank with seven sharks, some of which are 10 feet and 300 pounds (even bigger than Louis Nix). It was going to be a thrill.
“I knew I was going to be relaxed. I didn’t know how relaxed. When I got in the water, it felt very ... almost like I was supposed to be there, in a sense.
“There was never a moment when I thought, ‘What am I doing?’ This was what I was supposed to be doing. It’s everything that I thought it would be.”
Still, there’s always that little shred of trepidation. Sharks didn’t get their reputation as killers by accident.
Takes guts to take the plunge.
“I was excited to see (Jones diving),” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly.
“You figure, if he is going to jump into a tank of sharks, he’s going to go over the middle without any fear. I was pretty excited it was TJ Jones in there.”
“It should be easier to go across the middle,” Jones said. “You know what’s going to happen. You can expect to get hit. Going in a shark tank, you don’t know what they’re going to do. You don’t know what they’re thinking. That unknown, makes the known of going across the middle easier to cope with.”
That unknown, though, is the fuel that feeds his curiosity. Four years at Notre Dame have taught him to be himself, think for himself, and don’t be afraid to venture from the conventional.
“I like to think of myself as being a little weird; a little off; not being the same as everyone else,” Jones said. “Being unique and different how I dress; how I carry myself; wanting to research things like the ocean, which a lot of people don’t have a lot of knowledge about.
“When you go to an aquarium, you see all the different kinds of fish they have there, it makes you think of the thousands of gallons of water in the ocean, what other animals lurk in the depths we can’t explore.”
Being among them seems a natural place to be.
“When you sit back and watch the sharks and turtles moving in their environment, it’s almost like people-watching,” Jones said. “You see how people are in their environment when nobody’s messing with them. It’s a good way to be on the outside looking in.”
Later this year, Jones will graduate with a degree in film, television and theater, with a concentration on television production and communications.
Not quite marine biology.
“I realized the specific job I was looking at was doing a show with Shamu,” Jones said. “You didn’t necessarily need a marine biology degree. They look for good-character people with a background in theater or public speaking.”
Jones qualifies on both fronts.
He also has a little skill in football working in his favor. In 13 games last season, Jones tied Tyler Eifert for the team lead with 50 catches. Those receptions were good for 649 yards and four TDs.
His knack of getting open is one of Jones’ best assets. Kelly called him “one of the best route-runners in the country.”
“(It) wouldn’t surprise me if he’s a first-round (NFL) draft pick,” Kelly said. “He’s that good. Sometimes he doesn’t get enough of the accolades.”
“I don’t know if (Kelly’s opinion) is pressure; it’s not pressure for me. It’s more motivation,” Jones said. “If I know my coaches have that sort of faith in me, and I have that kind of faith in myself, it’s going to be easier to work together and for me to push myself harder to attain that goal.”
It’s all about the comfort zone — across the middle or under the water. Either way, Jones is at home.