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Minnesota Football Recruiting: Gopher Verbal Jeff Jones is a Wanted Man

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

To say that Jeff Jones has blown up, is one of the hottest and most talked about recruits in the country might be an understatement.  After a late invite to the Under Armour All-Star game Jones went down to Florida, turned some heads in practice, earned himself MVP honors and came away with a growing list of scholarship offers from some of college football's elite.

This has been a long and interesting recruitment that is far from over with still a month before National Signing Day.  I'll get to the potential impact Jones would have on the Gopher program but first a brief timeline of events that have led us to where we are today.

  • Feb 2, 2013 Jones Gives Verbal Commitment to Golden Gophers - in a surprise announcement, Jones announced that he wanted to be a Gopher.  His admiration for Coach Kill and his desire to stay home and build something special were vocalized.  This from (who has been covering this entire saga like a blanket)
    "First off, I want to say it feels great to tell you I'm a Golden Gopher," Jones said. "Minnesota and especially Coach Kill have been on me for a long time and I firmly believe that he'll get it turned around here. I wanted to be a part of something special and I think we can do that here in my home state of Minnesota."
    Coach Kill was really shocked and surprised that I wanted to commit so soon, but he was real excited as well. He asked me a few times if I was sure that this is what I wanted to, and I reassured him that I was sure. He didn't want me to commit then de-commit later on because he was burned like that last class from another in-state kid. I love the state and Twin Cities, I want to be here."
    "I can't say enough how much respect I have for Coach Kill and the coaching staff at Minnesota," Jones said. "They've made me feel like a top priority since they started recruiting me and I want to be at a place that wants be so much. The school is also great academically wise and I know that going there and getting a degree will definitely put me ahead. I mean I grew up here in Twin Cities hearing about great running backs like Lawrence Maroney and Marion Barber III and I want to be a guy like that for the Gophers one day."
    And in an interview with ESPN1500 Jones explains that he wanted to be one of the first elite Minnesota kids to stay and play in maroon and gold.
    Very important. Michael Floyd left. James Onwualu left. Those are hometown kids that could've packed the U of M. I hear people say Minnesota isn't that great, but those two are. I wanted to change (that perception) and be one of the first blue-chip players to stay.
  • Spring/Summer Evaluation Camps - Jones attends camps all over the Midwest and the country showcasing his skill set and earning high marks everywhere he went.
    St. Paul (Minn.) Cretin-Derham Hall's Jeff Jones is the second-rated running back in the Midwest, but there will have to be discussion about him moving into that top spot after a near-MVP showing at the Rivals Camp. He is a solidly built kid with outstanding top-end speed and a general smoothness to his running style.
    Earning one of the top overall offensive performances at the Chicago Camp.
    The 6-foot, 190-pound Jones was the class of a very deep running backs group. His day started out early in the position work when he aced the drills and showed an easy confidence in his play. We know Jones can run between the tackles, but he also showed Saturday just how good he can be in open space and how effective he is as a receiver out of the backfield.
  • Florida State Jimbo Fisher Camp - Another significant camp attended and one proved to be an important camp, not necessarily because of what Jones did or did not do, but because the eventual flip of Dalvin Cook from a Gator to a Seminole likely was hastened here.
  • Recruiting Rankings Bump - after the camps, Jones gets into the Rivals 100.
    "Jones is a bit shiftier than we expected he would be, even after seeing him in the spring," Farrell said of the Minnesota commitment who moved up 24 spots to No. 91 overall. "He was really good in space and after the catch this summer, and he showed more explosion."
  • Rumors of Jones Transferring to Eden Prairie - Right as the high school football season was about to get underway, rumors of Jones leaving Washburn to play under the brighter lights of Eden Prairie.  This ended up not occurring.
  • A Dominant Senior Season - 1,525 yards rushing and 34 touchdowns on the ground.
  • Star Tribune Story On the Involvement of Levi Bradleythis story wasn't specifically on the Jeff Jones recruitment but instead on the interesting relationship Bradley has built with a number of high profile, in-state recruits; including Jeff Jones.
  • January 2014 The Under Amour All-Star Game - now is when Jones starts to blow up.  Jones was making people recognize during practice and then went on to earn MVP honors after the game.
    More from ESPN Recruiting Analyst Derek Tyson.
    As impressive as Jones was during the week, he was even more so during the game, which cemented the opinion many now have of him. This is a power back who showed great ball skills (he made a spectacular catch along the sideline) and enough wiggle and feet to be a factor at the second level. This is what makes the evaluation process in recruiting fun. RB Joseph Yearby (Miami/Central) went down to injury and Jones stepped in and made a name for himself with a versatile performance.
  • Tom Luginbill Tweet
  • Now the offers start pouring in - Florida and Michigan have both reportedly offered Jones and a visit to the Gators has been scheduled the weekend of January 24th.
    "I don't know anyone from the University of Florida," he said. "But I just know for me the coaching staff was real genuine on the phone with me. They appreciate the talent that they have there, but they are looking for another guy to come in and make an impact."
  • Feb 5th, 2014 - National Signing Day.  What will happen?  Where will Jeff Jones actually sign?  Who knows.  Minnesota is in no way eliminated from the Jones recruitment, but the explosion over the last couple weeks and increased interest from the helmet schools is certainly enough to make Gopher fans nervous.  Ryan Burns assures us that we are very much still alive.

After all of that how do you feel?  Nervous?  I am.

Michigan and Florida are elite programs who can sell the notion that at any point, they can be competing for a national championship (which may or may not actually be true).  They can often come into a player's recruitment with only a month left, sell their program and come away with a late-rising player like Jones.  They also sign elite kids with every recruiting class.  Michigan secured the top running back of the 2013 class last year in Derrick Green.  Florida had the #6 overall back last year and had secured Cook this year before he flipped to Florida State.  Getting a player of his caliber is something these programs expect and is really nothing out of the ordinary.

If you want me to point our reasons why I think Jones will still end up a Gopher I think job security of the three coaches may (and should) play a factor.  Jerry Kill, even with his health "concerns", is probably the most likely to be at his school for the next four years.    Florida Head Coach Will Muschamp is clearly on the hot seat.  After a 4-8 season that included a loss to FCS Georgia Southern, the Gator's staff has precious little time to turn things around before there will be a coaching change.  Does Jones want to spend his college career in the middle of this?  And while the likelihood is less, Brady Hoke is not exactly safe and secure at Michigan.

Secondly I think it is important to note again that Coach Kill and staff has prioritized Jones from day 1.  This is the guy they want and they knew he was a special talent long before other teams missed out on their first choices.  This loyalty appeared to be a priority to Jones back in February and the hope is that it will remain a key to his recruitment.

The opportunity to contribute and be featured is greater here.  Not only is the system designed to feature the running game but there would be incentive for the Gopher staff to feature the local kid who stayed here.  If Jones earns time on the field, you better believe he will be featured in a big way to show other local recruits that you can succeed here and be something special here.  Michigan ran the ball 56% of the time, Florida was 61%.  Minnesota ran the ball 69% of the time.  (On the other hand, maybe Jones would help the Michigan rushing attack that managed negative 69 yards over a two-game stretch this year.)  Go where you'll be featured.  A powerful back with quick feet who can snap off big plays in the running game and as a should want to play in Kill's offense.

Every couple years there is an elite athlete who calls Minnesota his home.  Every time Gopher fans desperately want that athlete to turn down other elite programs and choose to stay in Minnesota.  The first guy to stand up and say he wants to be a Gopher, he wants to be a part of something special, he wants to be remembered as the guy who started a new trend and he wants to help rebuild the program into something special.  Jeff Jones has an opportunity to do that.  His recent showcasing of his skills and the national attention he is receiving would only enhance his standing in the hearts of Gopher fans should he choose to stay.  Can I blame a kid for wanting to go to Duke to play basketball or USC or Notre Dame for football?  I cannot, as I have never been in those shoes.  But I am waiting for that first guy who wants to be a Gopher.

This is a huge recruit for the Gopher staff.  Jones, along with Chanhassen OL Frank Ragnow, are the two guys that Coach Kill must absolutely secure on February 5th.  This recruitment has taken quite a few twists and has had Gopher fans on the edge of their seat all along.  National Signing Day is going to be very interesting as this one projects to go down to the wire.