Senior-itis
Jones snagged the winning TD vs. the Cardinal
Jones snagged the winning TD vs. the Cardinal
Publisher
Posted Aug 7, 2013


Four-year starter T.J. Jones has his eyes on two prizes this fall, one team-oriented, one personal. Both could come to fruition as a result of his on-field exploits on football Saturdays.

T.J. Jones has it bad.

After four springs, four summers, and three seasons with the Notre Dame football program, Jones is ready to move onto the next phase of his life. Not because he wants to, or because he doesn't love his teammates, school, or the college game, but because its necessary.

The senior pass-catcher first donned the Blue and Gold in spring 2010 -- an early enrollee along with the outset of the Brian Kelly regime. Then the age (and size) of a high school senior, Jones nonetheless wrested a starting job from senior Duval Kamara and junior John Goodman. Three seasons later he's secured more touchdown passes, 10, than all but two Kelly era players, 2011 first-round draft pick Michael Floyd (24) and 2013 first-round selection Tyler Eifert (11).

And it's that pair's ultimate destination that interests Jones, set to graduate early, entering his final season.

"Football is going to give me the biggest chunk of money the quickest, hopefully," said Jones of his post-season plans. "If I do everything right, God-willing, I'll have an NFL career next year. With my mother not working and being widowed and having four younger siblings, she needs that financial support. There are bills, still medical bills that have to be paid. Those are things I can take care of, God-willing, if I have an NFL career.

"This season is not only my last collegiate season but its also a way to ensure some type of immediate financial stability for my family."

Jones' father Andre, a 1991 Notre Dame graduate and starting linebacker on the program's last national championship team, died unexpectedly in the summer of 2011 from a brain aneurysm.

Since, Jones has carried the mental and spiritual burden of father-figure for his family. He wants to bear the financial as well.

"It's crazy to think that I've been here four years, but you're only as good as your last game, or in the pre-season, your last year," Jones offered. "I want Notre Dame fans and people that watch Notre Dame football to remember me not only as a leader, but a great character person, athlete, a family man, and I think that's going to motivate me to do the extra things this year, to go that extra mile to make a lasting name for myself."

That name was etched alongside Eifert's last fall, co-team leaders with 50 receptions. Both secured four touchdowns -- none bigger than Jones' overtime sliding beauty to beat Stanford. Both averaged just over 13 yards per catch, both moved the chains for the offense (Jones led the targets with 38 first down or touchdown grabs; Eifert finished second with 36).

But Eifert was the unquestioned go-to guy and the focus of opposing game plans. This season, Jones is ready for that challenge.

"Accepting that role as being the lead guy and being more vocal about it," said Jones of his approach now out of the massive shadows of Floyd and Eifert. "I was always taught to lead by example, but now being in college, some kids need to be prodded. Sometimes you need to rally up the troops or say something inspirational. I'm not a rah-rah guy but I've learned to be more vocal. When things aren't going well, to talk everyone up. To get the offense going when we're in a rut."

His classmate and former fellow wide receiver recruit Bennett Jackson has seen that work ethic up close. Jackson moved to cornerback for the pair's sophomore season of 2011 and the duo has dueled since.

"Me and T.J. go against each other all the time," Jackson said. "I feel like he's a leader as a receiver and I'm a leader as a corner. When you go against each other continuously you push each other, you can't help but make each other better."

Jones values the time spent vs. Notre Dame's best on the perimeter as well.

"I think it helps a lot, we're seeing some of the best talent in the nation in my opinion, in those three guys," said Jones of Jackson and starting corner competitors Lo Wood (another 2010 early enrollee with Jones) and sophomore Keivarae Russell.

"Going against them every day, being able to fight for contested balls, being able to beat good DBs, you have to accept the fact that sometimes they're going to make plays, because they're great. Learning to deal with that back-and-forth with great players on a daily basis will help the receivers each game."

And Jones knows, despite his desire to be the main man, he can't do it alone.

"I think it'll be balanced. You can't have one guy getting every catch because teams are able to lock in on one guy, that kills an offense," he said. "Some guys will have more catches than others but we're going to spread the ball around."

Balance in search of one end.

"Our team goal obviously is to go 13-0, be better than last year," Jones said. "Personally, for me, it's just to become a better leader. I'm going to get better at certain intricacies of being a receiver, but I also just want to lead the team, in times of adversity, to be that guy they can look to to make clutch plays when they need it. That's what the team expects of me being a four-year starter."

Leadership in times of adversity is what Jones expects from himself, both on the field and more important, at home.


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