Jeff Jones, who recently left the Gophers football program just over a year after being its top recruit in years, was charged Friday with felony drug possession. The former Minneapolis Washburn High School star athlete was being held in Hennepin County jail and if convicted could face up to five years in prison.
Jones had a firearm with him at the time of his arrest, which means that if he is convicted on the drug charge the minimum sentence would be three years in prison.
Jones, one of the nation’s top recruits, came to the Gophers before the 2014 season, played sparingly and announced in December that he was transferring to Iowa Western Community College. Gophers coach Tracy Claeys left the door open at the time for Jones’ return, saying, “He’s more than welcome to come back [to the Gophers].”
But Jones was kicked off the Iowa Western team in April for a violation of team rules, the team’s coach, Scott Strohmeier, said in an e-mail Friday to the Star Tribune. During his brief stay in Iowa, Jones was charged in March with assault with intent to inflict serious injury, according to Pottawattamie County court records; Jones pleaded not guilty, and the case has yet to be resolved. He also had a felony warrant for a narcotics charge in Iowa that led to his arrest Thursday in Bloomington.
Jones, 20, was stopped by Bloomington police Thursday afternoon for speeding in the area of 84th Street and Portland Avenue, according to the arrest record. A routine check revealed he had a revoked Minnesota driver’s license and the felony drug warrant from Iowa, according to the Hennepin County attorney’s office.
When police searched Jones, they found 1.78 grams of cocaine in his sock and a loaded .38 caliber handgun under the front driver’s seat, the arrest record said. Jones claimed the cocaine in his sock did not belong to him, telling police that he sells marijuana but not cocaine. He admitted the gun was his and that he uses it for protection.
He was arrested, booked and transferred to the Hennepin County jail. The county attorney is seeking bail of $28,000; his first court appearance is scheduled for Monday.
Jones dominated as a running back at Washburn High, earned a four-star recruiting rating and was pursued by the likes of Florida and Michigan. When he grabbed a Gophers hat on national signing day in 2014, the Washburn gymnasium, packed with fans and media, erupted with cheers. He was regarded as the highest-profile Gophers football recruit in recent years.
Jones, who was raised by his grandparents in south Minneapolis because of hardships at home with his parents, fell short of qualifying academically out of high school. He was granted an initial eligibility waiver from the NCAA, which allowed him to use his scholarship, but he was academically ineligible to play in 2014. He was switched from running back to wide receiver before the 2015 season but appeared in just three games while dealing with setbacks that included migraines, according to former coach Jerry Kill.
Claeys, who replaced the retired Kill last season, said he encouraged Jones to return to running back at Iowa Western, something the Gophers were contemplating having Jones do had he remained with the team. Iowa Western is a common landing place in the Midwest for talented players who don’t wind up in a major-conference program.
Rivals.com ranked Jones as the nation’s seventh-best running back in the class of 2014, and he was named co-MVP of the Under Armour All-America Game. He was named Minnesota’s Mr. Football after rushing for 1,525 yards and scoring 42 touchdowns as a senior at Washburn.