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Freshman TJ Jones finding his place in Irish offense

Sam Werner | Thursday, September 16, 2010

Before the season started, smart money would have been on either junior wide receiver Michael Floyd or junior tight end Kyle Rudolph to lead the Irish in touchdown catches after two games.

Instead, it’s freshman wide receiver TJ Jones leading the way with a pair of scoring grabs.

In fact, Jones even made some history in the process, becoming the first Irish freshman receiver to score a touchdown in each of his first two collegiate games.

“I thought with all the great receivers we’ve had here that someone’s done it,” Jones said. “Finding out that I’m the first is a great feeling and a great motivator.”

In his first game in an Irish uniform, Jones caught three passes against Purdue, including a 5-yard touchdown reception to put the Irish up 20-3. Last week against Michigan, Jones grabbed three passes for 73 yards. His final catch of the game was a 53-yard scoring bomb on Notre Dame’s third offensive play of the second half that swung momentum back in the Irish favor.

The freshman may have gotten a little too excited, though, as replays showed that Jones appeared to flip the ball out of his hand before he crossed the goal line. The officials didn’t notice, and Notre Dame was able to kick the extra point before the play could be reviewed.

“All three of the coaches addressed me — [head] coach [Brian] Kelly, [offensive coordinator Charley] Molnar, [wide receivers] coach [Tony] Alford — and let me know that I got away with one,” Jones said. “But if it happens again I’m going to have some big problems and that it better not happen again.”

While the coaches may have let him off with a warning this time, Jones said the message got home loud and clear.

“I guess you could say they let me off, not easy, but I didn’t get as harsh a punishment as I thought I would for dropping the ball before I scored, and that’s definitely something that I’ll make sure to never do again,” he said.

Jones also got some advice from his father, former Irish defensive lineman Andre Jones, who played for Notre Dame from 1987-91. Jones said his father told him to “just hand the ball to the ref” the next time he scored.

Jones said he and his father talk regularly, and on the Thursday or Friday before the game, they talk about what he can expect from that week’s game.

“[He tells me] kind of what to expect, since he’s been there before,” Jones said. “Kind of the atmosphere that I’m walking into and how to not psych myself in and out of the game and how to not let certain things that I’m not used to in high school affect me before the game in college.”

Saturday will definitely be a new experience for Jones, who will be making his first collegiate appearance away from Notre Dame Stadium, as well as playing in his first night game at the college level. Jones said he thinks he’s up for the challenge, though.

“Playing every game in high school at night was a great feeling,” he said. “And playing my first collegiate game at night, I’m sure it’s going to be a great feeling, a great atmosphere.”

Alford added that it’s all a matter of how Jones prepares himself for the new environment.

“I don’t care if we’re playing in our stadium or anyone else’s stadium,” Alford said. “Just put your pads on and go play. I’m not real into where I play. If you like to play ball, go play in the parking lot. I don’t care.”

While Jones has had success so far, he recognizes that this is where the hard part starts.

“As time goes on and maybe I catch a couple more balls, teams will start to notice me more, which means I’m going to have to work that much harder to beat double coverage or find holes in the defense,” he said.

Usually, the one aspect of the game that young wide receivers need to improve the most is their blocking ability. While Jones certainly has room to mature, he did issue some thunderous blocks on unsuspecting Wolverine players last Saturday.

“It’s a great feeling,” Jones said. “I was a defensive player as well in high school, so I like cracking people when I get the chance.”

While Alford was impressed with Jones’ ability to provide a big hit, he issued a challenge to the freshman.

“There were some broken plays where he was peeling back on guys, and it just goes to show that he’s got some toughness about him and he doesn’t mind throwing his body around,” Alford said. “I’d like to see him hit some guys like that when they see him coming.”