Local prep football star Jeff Jones has gone national on the college recruiting front.
Jeff Jones did not get an invitation to this month’s Under Armour All-American Game until the ESPN organizers were scrambling to fill a roster hole because of another player’s injury.
All that did was motivate Jones more.
For months, the standout senior running back from Minneapolis Washburn had been fueled by a belief that Minnesota recruits don’t get their due nationally.
Sure enough, in a game featuring six of the nation’s top 25 recruits, Jones came off the bench and earned co-MVP honors with a series of impressive plays featuring his trademark fast-motion cutback moves.
“I felt great because I knew I wasn’t just doing it for me,” Jones said. “I knew I was doing it for the seventh- or eighth-grader coming up next year. I felt like it opens up those recruiters’ eyes to say, ‘There is some talent here in Minnesota. You better go give it a look.’ ”
Recruiters have flocked to see Jones, who plans to announce his college choice on National Signing Day, Feb. 5. He made a verbal commitment to the Gophers last February but later decided to keep his options open.
He had official visits scheduled to Florida and Michigan until those schools pulled back last week. Tennessee has made a late run to join Minnesota and Iowa State among his finalists.
Jones, who scored 42 touchdowns last fall, heads the Star Tribune’s 16th Super Preps class, an annual look at the state’s best blue-chip college football prospects. Rivals.com ranks him as the nation’s 44th-best recruit in this year’s class. According to the website’s database, he is the first four-star running back from Minnesota since at least 2002.
Between 1986 and 2001, Minnesota produced a few running backs who were nationally coveted recruits, including Darrell Thompson, Carl McCullough, Thomas Tapeh and Rashon Powers-Neal. But they have been few and far between.
Thompson, now a Gophers radio analyst, said the 6-foot, 198-pound Jones “has great vision and runs with a ferocity that’s a little unique.”
“He has a little bit of a little man’s complex — in a good way, almost like Percy Harvin,” Thompson said. “I think it’ll translate to the next level and make him a good running back in college.
“He looks like he’s got the tools. If he can keep it together, he could be very good for the University of Minnesota, or wherever he goes.”
The suspense is killing hardcore Gophers fans. If Jones signs elsewhere, they’ll surely be disappointed, especially with the team coming off a resurgent 8-5 season in its third year under coach Jerry Kill.
“I think the potential benefit of adding him is greater than the negative perception of not getting him,” said Josh Helmholdt, Midwest recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. “I mean, guys change commitments all the time.
“If they’re able to keep him, the perception would be outstanding for future recruiting. And they’d have a tremendous football player who I think will have an instant impact on their program.”
Jones certainly wouldn’t be the first top-ranked Minnesota player to slip away from the Gophers. In the past 12 years, they’ve signed the state’s top-ranked player in the Rivals.com ratings just twice — in 2007 with four-star defensive end Anthony Jacobs from Northfield, and in 2011 with three-star offensive lineman Tommy Olson from Mahtomedi.
The Gophers were the first team to offer Jones a scholarship, and that came after his freshman year at Washburn.