Many of the Midwest’s top prospects flocked to Chicago for The Opening Regional camp last weekend, and four-star Naquan Jones was amongst that group. Jones, a junior defensive tackle for Evanston Township High School (Il.), is now up to over 300 pounds and says he’s been focused on and off the field.
“It’s been going well,” Jones said ”I’ve been working hard to just maintain my grades and do everything and been working out with my team. I’m working out with them all the time. I’m just trying to develop more going into my senior year.”
Although Jones hasn’t set any individual goals for his senior season, he is targeting a deeper playoff run for Evanston, something that “hasn’t happened in a while”.
Last week Jones made two big announcements regarding his recruiting.
“I announced that I will be making my commitment in June and the other is that I put out my top five list,” Jones said. “It’s actually a top six: Michigan State, South Carolina, Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State.”
Jones says the timing of his junior school year did factor into his commitment schedule.
“I wanted to finish my junior year strong, and I want to be completely dedicated to my senior year and my senior season,” Jones said. “I don’t want to have to worry about this process that much anymore, so I chose one of the last days of the school year to make my announcement of where I’m going to be going to school.”
Out of the six programs that made the cut, Jones has only visited two up to this point—Michigan State and South Carolina. Jones visited East Lansing on November 8, 2014 to watch Michigan State host the Ohio State Buckeyes at home. Ohio State won a thriller by a score of 59-37.
Still, due to the Spartans recent success and the legwork done by defensive line coach Ron Burton, Jones says Michigan State comfortably made its way into his top group.
“I have a great relationship with coach Burton,” Jones said. “I’ve been talking to coach [Mark] Dantonio a lot now. I just talked to him again yesterday and talked to him earlier this week. I’ve always had a great relationship with coach Burton even from when I went to go visit.
“It’s definitely a program that I could see myself fitting in a lot. Academically, they have what I need off the field. Guys like Enoch Smith Jr., he is one of my mentors. I have a good relationship with Enoch and I was actually talking to him not too long ago and I just feel like it’s close to home. I could see myself fitting in to that program.”
According to the Crystal Ball on 247sports.com, 83% of the predictions have Jones headed to Michigan State.
If Jones does not pledge to MSU, another program that has a shot to land the big time defensive tackle is Ohio State. Relationships played a big role in his recruitment to the Buckeyes as well with co-defensive coordinator / safeties coach Chris Ash taking the lead as his primary recruiter.
In fact, Jones said the Buckeyes are in the mix “just because I’ve been in contact with coach Ash”.
“Me and him have a great relationship,” Jones said. “I haven’t been able to visit yet, so I haven’t had a chance to see the campus or anything like that. But I mean stuff like winning the National Championship as a great team with a great coach. I’ve been talking a lot to coach Ash, and that’s someone I feel comfortable with.”
Jones also spoke quite highly of the Michigan staff and lauded head coach Jim Harbaugh’s ability to bring in a coaching staff with such a distinct NFL presence. This shows Jones that Michigan has the tools to develop its players, which was a weakness at UM under former head coach Brady Hoke.
“Michigan…well I mean I know they haven’t really been on the rise for the past few years, but with the new coaching staff coming in, basically the entire coaching staff is coming from the NFL,” Jones said. “Obviously they are top-notch coaches that know what they are talking about. Michigan is just a great school also like academically. I just feel like it’s just kind-of in the same place for Michigan. I’ve been talking a lot to coach Mattison so those guys would have a same comparison [to Ohio State] as to why I’d want to go there.”
As of now it sounds like Ohio State and Michigan are on seemingly level footing in Jones’ recruitment, with Michigan State possibly claiming on edge. Penn State and Wisconsin round out the Big Ten portion of Jones’s top group, and he spoke highly of those two programs as well.
“Wisconsin is a big college town so I feel like I’d be loved there,” Jones said. “Wisconsin is also a great school academically.”
“With Penn State, overcoming all the adversity that they had and being able to bounce back like that. Penn State is a school known for not being too flashy and that’s what I like most about it. How basic it is. Like so basic, even the defensive coordinator messaged me today and said we might not have the swag as the rest of the programs but we definitely have the championships, we definitely have the relationships, we definitely have that type of stuff.”
Rounding out Jones’s top six is South Carolina–the only school other than MSU that has hosted Jones on its campus–which certainly is playing into the Gamecocks’ favor.
“I went to visit South Carolina and they are just…I went down there and I loved everything about it,” Jones said. “I had a talk with coach [Steve] Spurrier and had a talk with coach [Deke] Adams. They seemed like really cool dudes. I liked everything about the South. I just liked it, that right there. They aren’t like an Alabama or anything like that, but they are an SEC program, a good program, and I feel like I could fit in there.”
In terms of what is going to factor into his decision, Jones already knows what will play a prominent role.
“I would have to say academics first,” Jones said. “Secondly I would say having a relationship with my future teammates and future coaches and also having somewhere I feel like I could fit in.”
After announcing his commitment, Jones still plans to visit other schools and will take all five of his official visits, although the destinations are not clear yet.
“Yeah, definitely. I’m going to take all my official visits just for the experience because you only go through this recruiting process once. I’m definitely going to get out to more schools, see how everything is and definitely take all my official visits.”