Jeshaun Jones still isn’t sure why he’s getting all this attention, neither does his mother.
During a recent visit to The News-Press in June, Nicole Baran inquired why her son, after one season of varsity football at South Fort Myers, was being mentioned as one of the top recruits in the region heading into the 2016 season.
“How exactly did he get on this list?” she asked of The Big 15, an annual ranking of the best high school football prospects in Southwest Florida.
The News-Press evaluated players from Lee and Collier counties based on five factors — production, intangibles, potential, star power and scholarship offers — and settled on a list that fully embodies the brightest junior and senior recruits.
We start with the 16-year-old Jones, a rising junior with the Wolfpack, at No. 15.
A tall and ranging athlete at 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds who projects to be a wide receiver at the next level, he’s perhaps the fastest rising prospect of any player on the list. Much of the interest he’s yielded from college programs has come over the last four months.
He holds five scholarship offers, two of which have come from Power 5 schools Arkansas and Rutgers, and remains a coveted target with 4.6-second 40-yard dash speed, elite agility and the kind of maturity coaches can’t teach.
South Fort Myers coach Anthony Dixon has a word for it.
“Other guys we’ve had, they were lightning fast,” Dixon said. “They could get the ball down the field. (Jeshaun’s) thing is, he’s so smooth. His speed can trick you. He’s going to be open. He’s so big, you don’t know how big he is until you get on the pads and get next to him.”
Interest from college football programs began in February and hasn’t yielded since, with multiple schools inquiring about the receiver. He also holds offers from South Florida, Southern Mississippi and Florida Atlantic.
A year ago, Jones was simply trying to find what kind of player he was on the field.
Today, there’s still much for him to prove.
Initially viewed as a quarterback by the coaching staff his sophomore year, Jones later carried the ball a few times as a hybrid back and caught five passes for 71 yards and a touchdown. Throughout the year, he saw time at receiver, starting a handful of games.
However, where he really made his mark was on defense. A starter at corner or free safety for a big portion of the season, he displayed the kind of consistent, productive play that often yielded positive situations for the Wolfpack.
He, along with South Florida signee and strong safety Andre Polk, helped bookend one of the strongest defenses in Lee County. Jones showed poise in a loss to Fort Myers in September with a defended pass and four tackles and also pulled in an interception during a win over Riverdale in October.
Given more of an offensive role in a spring scrimmage against Barron Collier and in the team’s spring game against Charlotte, he followed with an electrifying performance, tipping a downfield pass away from two defensive backs before jutting away for a touchdown.
“Natural instinct,” he says of the play against the Tarpons. “I didn’t try to tip it, that’s just what happened.”
His mother says those skills come from a place of experience, only not in football. She believes his hand-eye coordination developed from years of playing basketball and baseball.
“He steals balls out of the air all the time,” she said.
Dixon agrees with that notion, mentioning that Jones’ natural athleticism in two other sports provides valuable experience on the field.
“He has incredible ball skills,” he said. “That has a lot to do with playing baseball. On the field, he will go up with one hand, two hands, over the top, it doesn’t matter. He doesn’t drop balls.”
While Jones says his biggest asset are his hands, his tools go beyond that. The receiver also understands how to use his feet on the line of scrimmage and can wiggle into tight creases in the slot.
Dixon said the junior also has made strides in route running and continues to build in the weight room, where Jones hopes to add weight to his slight frame. He’s performed at one-day camps at South Carolina, FAU, Florida, Florida A&M and South Florida, gaining much of his recruiting traction in front of college coaches.
“I’m not the fastest receiver, so I trust my routes and hands to make the plays,” Jones said.
In an ideal world, Jones said, he would one day like to field an offer from Florida. It’s the first place he ever watched a college football game in person, he said, and is a place he remains enamored by.
But while his dream school hasn’t offered a scholarship yet, the South Fort Myers junior believes he has ample time to prove his worth on the field.
He’s watched the career timelines of former South Fort Myers greats like Sammy Watkins and Jayron Kearse, both in the NFL, and knows there’s plenty of room to grow within the program.
And yet, he’s also careful not to compare himself to anyone other than himself.
“He just has to go out and be himself,” Dixon said. “We have a talented receiving corps, and he’ll be in a situation where he’ll have an opportunity to make a lot of plays and sure enough plenty are going to be in front of him.”
The Big 15
The News-Press and The Naples Daily News will be counting down the top football recruits in Southwest Florida every Tuesday and Friday until the start of the high school football season. The Big 15 features players going into their junior and senior years from Lee and Collier counties, with respect paid to those with hard scholarship offers and those without who possess great potential.
The Next 15
30. Brandon King, North Fort Myers, WR: A senior receiver for the Red Knights, King caught 17 passes for 450 yards in 2015.