Nacogdoches’ Brandon Jones, Nation’s Top-Rated Safety, Signs With Texas
NACOGDOCHES -- The momentum for the Texas Longhorns' 2016 signing class has been picking up steam for a couple of weeks. Head coach Charlie Strong and company were just counting down the hours to National Signing Day.
And the payoff came Wednesday morning as Texas landed some of the county's top-ranked uncommitted recruits, including perhaps the jewel of the Horns' class.
Nacogdoches five-star free safety Brandon Jones ended almost two years of speculation by signing with the Longhorns in front of hundreds of friends and family members and ESPNU television cameras during a ceremony in the high school gym.
Jones, who had more than 40 of the biggest college programs in the nation extend offers his way, narrowed his list to three Monday evening -- Baylor, Texas A&M, and Texas.
As soon as Jones' live-TV proclamation and ESPNU producers gave him the "all clear," it was if the weight of the world had been taken off the 18-year old's shoulders.
"It's a sigh of relief, just some freedom that I can have that I haven't had in a while," Jones said. "It's been a really tough process, and a long process at that, but I think I did everything right. I just wanted to make sure I made the right decision, which I did."
His mother was the happiest soul in the room.
"This has been an exciting process, but it has been so long and so arduous. It has infiltrated every moment of our lives almost for two years," Sarah Jones said. "I am way past ready for it to be over, I'm ready for life to return to normal. I want him to enjoy his senior year and have a couple months as a kid before life gets crazy and hectic and he has to hit it hard for college."
Despite being the center of attention for college coaches and fans across the nation, being a recruit as coveted as Jones can often make teenagers feel more alone than normal.
But, luckily, Jones shared a special kinship with one of those coaches. Former Gilmer head coach and current Longhorns tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Jeff Traylor was hired by Strong last February, and was quickly put in charge of recruiting the East Texas region.
"I've got a really good relationship with Coach Traylor," Jones said. "With him being from East Texas, he's been recruiting me really hard ever since he got that job down there. He kinda took that place as a father figure and he was always there for me."
Family was important to the entire Jones family.
"I think with Coach Strong and his staff, the first thing I think about when I think about them: they're just really family oriented," Sarah Jones said. "They're going to take care of my kid when I can't be there. I feel comfortable knowing he's going to be watched over and taken care of."
Jones was a big key to the Longhorns' late recruiting surge. Texas began Wednesday morning ranked just outside the top 25 nationally by recruiting service Scout.com, but thanks to a big National Signing Day, the Longhorns will finish with a top 10 recruiting class.
The only five-star Texas signee was Jones, and he'll join a Texas secondary that played several blue-chip true freshmen in 2015, including Kris Boyd (Gilmer native), Holton Hill, P.J. Locke, and Davante Davis.
"Honestly, I think we'll be one of the best secondaries in the Big 12, if not the nation," Jones said. "Having some of the young players already getting experience and developing, I can step in and we can be that much better. I think we'll be really dangerous."
Texas is seeking significant improvement in year three under Strong, who's just 11-14 in Austin.
The lack of success hasn't hurt Strong's recruiting, though, as the Longhorns have now put together back-to-back top 10 signing classes.
"At my official visit I just had a really good time," Jones said. "The player panel that we had at the official, the players just being honest and saying nothing but positive things without being put up to it by any of the coaches really stuck out to me -- just how welcoming and open all the coaches are not just as a football player, but also as a man."
Jones, who enjoyed breakout success as a sophomore during the 2013 season, spent half of his junior year on the sidelines with a knee injury. Some questioned if he'd be as strong as a senior.
Those concerns were put to rest. Jones finished with 135 tackles, 19 for loss, and had two interceptions and one forced fumble in 10 games. He was the USA Today's national Defensive Player of the Year, and earned first-team honors on the ETSN.fm East Texas Football Super Team.
But as soon as Jones' season came to an end in November, the all-out recruiting blitz made its way to Nacogdoches.
"This last month has been really stressful, taking official visits every weekend and stuff like that," Jones said. "I just got a chance to get out and see things for myself. I loved all the campuses, but I just felt like Texas was more like home for me."
Jones' mother is ready for things to go back to normal.
"With all the different coaches from all the different schools coming and wanting home visits, so I'm scheduling three or four home visits while I'm at my job, before I go to work, when I get off work or taking the kids to practice. You don't have a life because you have to fit all these coaches in."
Not as thrilled about Jones leaving Nacogdoches is his high school coach, Bobby Reyes.
"He handled it all just beautifully," Reyes said. "I've got a lot of respect for Brandon, and I think he's got a lot of respect for me. I'm just really happy for him and really happy for Sarah and the boys."