The Gophers lost some key battles, too. Chanhassen offensive lineman Frank Ragnow picked Arkansas over them on Friday. Khari Blasingame, a defensive back from New Market, Ala., flipped his commitment from Minnesota to Vanderbilt.
Kill acknowledged he got nervous about losing Jones, too. Twelve months ago, Jones gave the Gophers a verbal commitment, but he called it a soft commitment and kept his options open.
Iowa State made a strong push, and after he was named Co-MVP at the Under Armour All-American Game last month, Florida and Michigan invited him for official visits.
“I get a little bit concerned when you’re talking about Florida and Michigan, and all those people coming in,” Kill said. “He had a great all-star game and got great exposure, and the more exposure you get, the more it can make your head spin.”
Other schools might have pursued Jones harder if he already had qualified academically for Division I. Washburn coach Giovan Jenkins said Jones still needs to raise his ACT score by one point and raise his grade-point average by two-tenths of a point.
Jones will retake the ACT exam on Saturday and would have up to two more chances to take it before his eligibility decision for 2014 is finalized.
“I know he’ll get it,” Giovan Jenkins said. “… We’re not concerned about how many times he’s going to take it. We’re concerned about him studying for it and giving his best effort.”
MarQueis Gray and Thomas Tapeh are among the Gophers in recent years who were unable to play their first year because of their ACT score. Both eventually became big contributors who earned their degrees.
“I’m not worried about [Jones qualifying]; I guess that’s the best way to put it,” Kill said. “We’ve done our research, and those kinds of things. That’s what our job is.”
If and when Jones qualifies, he will become a candidate to play immediately. Even if the Gophers stick with Cobb at tailback, coming off a 1,200-yard season, Jones could move to slot receiver as a true freshman.
Jones racked up 42 touchdowns for Washburn last season, with eight of those coming on receptions.
“He’s the best player from Minnesota and one of the best running backs in the country,” said Tom Lemming, a recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network. “I think he could become an impact player for [the Gophers]; that’s what they really need.”
Kill said he felt confident Jones would stick with the Gophers because their relationship dates to a summer camp after Jones’ freshman year. That’s when the Gophers became the first team to offer Jones a scholarship.
Jones also is friends with Ra’Shede Hageman, the former Washburn standout who became a first-team All-Big Ten defensive end and is a projected first-round NFL draft pick. Kill helped Hageman work through his own academic concerns and saw him earn a degree last fall.
Jones hopes his decision can influence future recruits. He didn’t name names, but Cretin-Derham Hall defensive lineman Jashon Cornell ranks No. 1 by ESPN in class of 2015.
“That was my goal,” Jones said. “Hopefully after I sign, there are other kids coming behind me that will realize staying home is not a bad idea.”