After Hunter Renfrow caught Deshaun Watson’s pass and rolled backward into Raymond James Stadium’s end zone this past January to give Clemson its first national championship since 1981, Kendell Jones couldn’t stop the tears.
Jones, who was a 4-star defensive tackle in the Class of 2016, signed with Alabama but failed to qualify. After seeing the Crimson Tide fall to the Tigers in the national championship game, there were a lot of what-ifs that crept into his mind.
“I cried on Instagram Live in front of like 35 people,” Jones said with a laugh. “Those refs cheated my boys. I was just looking up everything in the rule book to blame it on those refs.
“I just thought to myself that I could’ve been there. I could have been the one smacking Deshaun Watson around. I did cry after the loss. I knew how much that game meant to them, but I thought to myself, ‘Dang, maybe it would have been different if I could have been out there.'”
Jones, who’s now at Copiah-Lincoln Community College (Wesson, Miss.), keeps in touch with several members of Alabama’s Class of 2016 such as defensive linemen Raekwon Davis and Quinnen Williams. Jones wishes he could be with them in Tuscaloosa now, but instead, he’s in a town of 1,925 people, according to the 2010 Census.
The 6-foot-5, 380-pound junior college prospect, who’s been in Wesson since June 5, 2016, admits that he’s disappointed in himself that he couldn’t get into Alabama, but he’s working on changing that at Copiah-Lincoln.
“This was God’s plan for me,” Jones said. “I’m growing each day. I’m maturing each day. I’m here to make a difference for myself. I want to make sure that me not qualifying won’t happen again.
“I just told myself that God put this detour in my life for a reason. Everyone in my life — my parents, my siblings, my coaches and friends — told me that I still can accomplish my goals here. This is just a year-and-a-half detour. It doesn’t matter. I’m here so I can get somewhere where I want to accomplish my goals.”
That “somewhere” is still Alabama. “Hulk,” as he’s better known as, wants to be a part of the Crimson Tide in the 2018 season. In fact, he still considers himself an Alabama commit. While he may view himself as one, the Crimson Tide still need to recruit him and offer him a scholarship again. Once Jones failed to qualify, he no longer was bound to Alabama and was free to choose any school.
He doesn’t want to choose another university, though. Fresno State, Oregon and Southern Mississippi have offered him a scholarship to be a part of their 2018 class, but he’s waiting on the Tide to give him another chance.
“The comeback is real. I’m still truly in love with Alabama,” Jones said. “Coach Saban called my coach at junior college the other day and told him how they don’t want to lose me. I’m doing everything possible to stay in my books and still working out trying to lose weight.”
His weight was an issue coming out of Shoemaker High School (Killeen, Texas). Jones said he’s working out every day and wants to lose at least 20 more pounds and play at 360 pounds. His max bench press is 500 pounds, he says, and he can bench 400 around five times in a row.
Jones said the only things to do in Wesson, Miss., are work out, run and go to class. He still hasn’t gotten used to the size of the town: “You can fit the entire campus four times at Alabama and still have space.”
But this is where life has brought him, and it’s where he’s hoping to realize his dream of playing for Saban next season.
“I’ve been with them since 11th grade,” Jones said. “Even with (former defensive line coach Bo) Davis not there, I still love that school. I want to make a difference for them. I want to play at the highest level, and Alabama is that.”
Jones is planning on making it back to Tuscaloosa this summer after June 5, which is the day he officially can be recruited. Because he’s a non-qualifier, he needs to spend a full calendar year at a junior college before he can speak with coaches face-to-face.
The nation’s No. 12 defensive tackle in the Class of 2016 will graduate from Copiah-Lincoln in December. He didn’t play football last year in order to focus on improving his grades. He did that. He finished his first semester with a 3.0 GPA.
When Jones moves to the next level, he wants to major in either broadcasting or psychology. His main goal when he gets to college is to be known as a student-athlete and not just another athlete on campus.
“When people found out I went to junior college, some people sent me hate mail and called me an embarrassment and said I was a failure,” Jones said. “The reason why I’m a failure is because I’m bound to succeed. It seems bad now, but later on when I’m out of here — God-willing — I hope I become an Academic All-American. That’s my main goal. I promised my dad that when I get to Division I, I’m getting on the Dean’s List for him.”