John Kelly (4) Oak Park, Mich.
Back then, the Oakland product’s hair didn’t reach his shoulders, like it does now. As Tennessee coach Butch Jones’ 2015 class grew, along with Jack Jones’ locks, the offensive lineman had to fend off the advances of the other schools competing for his services.
It wasn’t easy, said Jones, who spoke to the media Tuesday for the first time since he officially enrolled in classes last week.
“I’m not going to lie,” the 6-5, 300-pound Jones said, “when you’re a high school guy getting recruited, you’re thinking, ‘Hey, I want to go visit this place. I want to go visit that place.’
“I think sticking with Tennessee shows these coaches that I’m here, I’m not going anywhere. I’m all Vol. That’s me.”
Despite the offers Jones received from Alabama, Auburn and Georgia, among others, Tennessee held on even as accolades, like an invitation to the Under Armour All-America Game, piled up. Jones even played a key role in recruiting Hillsboro defensive end Kyle Phillips, who committed to Tennessee at the high school all-star game earlier this month.
Jones’ participation in the Under Armour game kept him from attending the Vols’ 45-28 TaxSlayer Bowl victory. But seeing the players receive their rings from the win has been “awesome,” according to Jones.
“It’s going to be even better when we’re winning bigger games against bigger teams, and we’re just going to keep getting better and better,” he said.
Before this past season, Jones said he wasn’t going to cut his hair until Oakland won a state title. Because Oakland didn’t win the title, Jones hasn’t cut his hair.
Former Montgomery Bell Academy standout Jashon Robertson, a freshman, was the only Tennessee offensive lineman to start every game at the same position last season. Jones admitted that the opportunity to play right away was intriguing to him, though it wasn’t his primary reason for choosing the Vols.
The lifelong Tennessee football fan committed two days after the coaching staff extended its offer, well before the Vols’ offensive line problems began showing up. This past season, only five teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision allowed more sacks than Tennessee (43).
“As the year developed, they got better and better,” Jones said of the Vols’ offensive line. “I hope to continue that into next year.”
Though Jones has been on campus for over a week, his new lifestyle didn’t truly sink in until over the weekend. Pruitt Jones, Jack’s brother and a junior at Oakland, celebrated his 17th birthday. Jack wanted to be home in Murfreesboro to celebrate but knew he couldn’t. There was homework to do and meetings to attend.
“I’m done with being a kid now,” Jones said. “It’s time to grow up. I’m here to play football.”
Reach Matt Slovin at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MattSlovin.
Height/weight: 6-5, 300
High school: Oakland
Bio: Also played basketball for Oakland … Was president of his class in high school … Earned all-state honors in his junior and senior years … Named an Under Armour All-American after senior season. … Father, John, played at Tennessee Tech. … Family adopted Jones’ sister, Mary Margaret, from China.
In his own words: “I’m a Tennessee guy. I was born and raised in the state of Tennessee. Been cheering for the big orange my whole life. I just couldn’t see any other place for me to go.”