Tennessee has fostered a strong connection with one of the top juniors in North Carolina, but a couple of other SEC powers could be in the mix as well.
Ryan Jones, a four-star athlete at Charlotte powerhouse Mallard Creek High School, made an unofficial visit to Alabama last week. He raved about his trip to Tuscaloosa, but the Crimson Tide are not among his 11 current offers.
“It was great. I got to see a real good game because they played Tennessee,” Jones told SECCountry.com. “Overall, it was just a great atmosphere with all of the fans and all the great players. Especially because we got to see all of the facilities, it is just a great place overall.
“They still have to offer. If they offer me, I’m definitely going to consider them. We’ll see.”
The Vols are one of the schools that have offered Jones, who plays wide receiver and cornerback and is rated as the No. 6 player in North Carolina in the Class of 2017. Tennessee assistant coach Mark Elder, who recruits the Charlotte area for the Vols, and wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni have been in constant contact with Jones, who also has offers from Clemson, Oklahoma and the four in-state ACC schools.
One bonus for the Vols is current wideout Marquez North, who graduated from Mallard Creek in 2013. Jones just transferred to Mallard Creek before this season, but North could be a factor in his recruitment.
“I really like how it is big-time football and still close to home,” Jones said. “That’s SEC football, they have a great program with Butch Jones and also their receiver corps with Marquez North and those other guys is real strong. It’s just a nice fit there.
“I don’t personally know (North), but I know of him. I’ve met him a couple times.”
The other SEC school that piques Jones’ interest is UGA. But like Alabama, he is in wait-and-see mode with the Bulldogs.
“I went to DawgNight and they’ve talked to me,” Jones said. “I’ve talked to them a lot, but I’m not sure if they’re going to offer me or not. I’m thinking they are, but I don’t know.”
Jones, listed at 6-foot-1.5 and 197 pounds, is already a star for the two-time defending champions in the state’s highest classification. On a roster loaded with players receiving college interest, he still stands out.
“He’s such a great football player. He could play anywhere,” Mallard Creek coach Mike Palmieri said. “He’s really special. He’s done some great things for us on both of sides of the ball. He’s a duel-threat kind of guy. He’s phenomenal.”
Jones said schools have been telling him they want to get him on campus before deciding on offense or defense. His numbers aren’t eye-popping, but part of that is sharing targets with Corey Sutton (Kansas State commit), Thomas Gordon (Furman commit) and Thaddeus Moss, who is Randy’s son and one of the top uncommitted seniors in the state.
In Mallard Creek’s most recent game, Jones had only three catches, though all three went for touchdowns.
“At first it was (tough). We struggled a little bit with that, trying to get everybody their balls each game,” said Palmieri, who welcomed Jones, Moss and Sutton as transfers before the season. “Those guys eventually bought into the team. It took a little bit for everyone to get on the same page. We try to get everyone their balls, but they know some games it could be Ryan, some games it could be Corey, some games it will be Thad. They know they need to take advantage of their opportunities.”
Jones is following up his weekend at Alabama with trips to Florida State and then to Clemson (when the Tigers play the Seminoles). He said he doesn’t have a favorite at this point, but could start whittling it down soon. The Vols hope to be in his group of finalists, and it remains to be seen if the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs want to be as well.
“I’ll have my top five either by the end of the season or definitely by the spring,” Jones said. “I really don’t have a favorite school right now, or a top five or anything like that. I have some schools that I like though.”