Understated, Underrated

Jones' sublime sliding grab helped beat Stanford

Refocused after family tragedy in 2011, Notre Dame's top chain-moving receiver is likewise rededicated to his craft. His family, as always, remains first.

Notre Dame's top receiver doubles as the nation's best tight end. He leads the undefeated, top-ranked Irish in receptions, receiving yards, and is tied for the team lead for touchdown grabs.

Tyler Eifert's numbers aren't of the video game variety; none of Notre Dame's balanced attack features modern-day oddities such as 100 receptions, 15 touchdowns, or yardage broaching a ton.

Which is why few that tune into the January 7 BCS Championship game between Eifert's Irish and No. 2 Alabama will pay immediate attention to a sub six-feet tall, barely 190 pounds soaking wet target that emerged as Eifert's statistical equal in 2012.

Eifert moves defensive coordinators to plan for the inherent mismatch he presents. Jones? He just keeps moving the chains -- a team-best 33 times for first downs.

"He's an incredibly competitive young man," said receivers coach and passing game coordinator Mike Denbrock. "He likes to come out on top every chance he gets, and if you have that, and have a skill set like he has, you see constant improvement. And he's done an incredible job of coming to work on the practice field."

That practice field wasn't a welcoming place for Jones in 2011, nor was any part of his cruel, sudden reality. Jones spent last season struggling to recover from the death of his father, Andre, a former Notre Dame linebacker and starter on the 1988 national championship team.

"It was real tough. There were times I wanted to quit; times I tried to go home, but my mother told me no," said Jones of a season spent mourning his family's loss. "There were times where it didn't seem a reason to do a lot of things. At the end of the day, I knew that I have five siblings, four which are younger, and my mother who doesn't work, who are all counting on me.

"I knew at the end of the day, I have to give myself the best opportunity when I graduate here, whether its to pursue a business profession or to take my chances in the league, to give myself the best opportunity to have some income to help the family out."

Jones' focus on family helped him through the tough times of 2011. His improved focus on his craft thereafter opened doors for the Irish offense in 2012.

"What a tragedy to lose your father at any age," said Denbrock. "Having lost my own father, I certainly understand the impact that could have on somebody's life. What (Jones) has done I think more than anything is understand its his turn to pick up the mantle and run with hit.

"When he got to the point where he was ready to reengage himself and his abilities into becoming a better football player and a better person, he's been 100 percent full-speed ever since, and I think it shows in the way he plays the game."

Family Tradition

Jones ranks second on the team with 43 receptions, 33 for first downs to lead the Irish. He and Eifert (31 first downs) accounted for 64 of the team's 125 first down receptions. The junior from Gainesville, Ga., also secured eight passes on third down this fall, seven of which moved the chains to rank third on the team behind Eifert and first-down machine RB Theo Riddick.

One of his team-best four touchdown receptions was a surreal sliding game-winner in the overtime rain vs. Stanford (the program to which Jones had initially pledged in 2009). It was Notre Dame's last offensive play in what became one of the two best college football's best games of the 2012 season.

"I think he's really focused on his craft in terms of route running," said head coach Brian Kelly of Jones following the contest with the Cardinal. "He knows he gets more playing time if he's an aggressive blocker, which gives him more opportunity to be on the field and catch the football. I think he understands that his playing time is predicated on him being a complete player."

And a complete person. Jones, who admitted he feels "30 years old" had no individual goals in mind for 2012. He has one in particular in sight for the New Year

"We've also talked about us both winning it, and wearing #7," said Jones of his father's past championship of '88 which also happens to be the most recent from the team in South Bend. "And being one of the few father-son duos, if there are any, to both win a national championship at the same school.

"So its more sentimental for me than maybe for other guys."

Jones offered he has his father's championship ring (at home in Georgia with his mother, Michele). At one point it was with him in South Bend, but she wisely reminded him he could lose it. Its thus safely tucked away with the family.

Which means there's a spot reserved for a ring of his own in South Bend.

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