Why TJ Jones Is the Best Receiver College Football Fans Have Never Heard of

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Why TJ Jones Is the Best Receiver College Football Fans Have Never Heard of
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Playing in the shadows of two of the most productive pass-catchers in program history will, as a byproduct, forcibly relegate a player beneath the radar of the national college football landscape.

Such has been the life for Notre Dame receiver TJ Jones throughout his first three seasons with the Irish.

The trajectory of the Roswell, Ga., native's career in South Bend, Ind., would belie that notion, though.

A former 4-star prospect, per 247 Sports, Jones arrived at Notre Dame during the peak of record-breaking receiver and current Arizona Cardinal Michael Floyd's collegiate career, pushing Jones, having been named a starter as a true freshman, to the outskirts of relevant college football headlines.

The 5'11", 195-pound receiver did receive a dashing few moments of attention during the Irish's 28-24 loss to Michigan in the second week of the 2010 regular season.

While it went unnoticed during the heat of the moment, following the game, it was determined Jones had prematurely dropped the football in celebration of having hauled in a 53-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Dayne Crist.

That was just the beginning of a whirlwind first three seasons at Notre Dame for Jones.

...

June 22, 2011 was a day that changed Jones' life forever.

His father, former standout Notre Dame defensive end Andre Jones, suddenly passed away after suffering a brain aneurysm.

A man the younger Jones had grown so close with was now gone, leaving TJ as the de facto man of the family, with four younger siblings, as well as his mother, Michelle, to look after.

Those were dark days for Jones, who, at one point, contemplated leaving the game of football altogether, via Mike Lopresti of USA Today.

"There were times I wanted to quit," Jones said. "Times I wanted to go home. My mother told me no. There were times where it didn't seem like there was a reason to do a lot of the things that I've done."

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Having arrived at a life-altering crossroads, Jones faced a decision that a very, very small number of college sophomores encounter.

Give up football and continue to grieve, or keep fighting.

Jones chose the latter, also via Lopresti.

"I had to grow up quick," Jones said. "I was 18 when he passed away, I feel like 30 now. I feel almost like a dad."

...

Losing in such humbling fashion to the Crimson Tide of Alabama in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game wasn't the way Jones or anyone associated with the Notre Dame program envisioned capping what has been referred to as a dream season.

At that time, not many were looking ahead to the 2013 season, though the depth chart and statistics have combined to form one specific circumstance for Jones and the Irish offense.

Without Floyd and former tight end Tyler Eifert, both of whom played alongside Jones beginning in 2010, Jones has emerged as a senior leader tasked with reviling and succeeding as Notre Dame's No. 1 receiver.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It's not just semantics, either.

As a junior last season, Jones tied Eifert for the team lead in receptions (50) and receiving touchdowns (four) while finishing just 36 yards shy of tying for the team lead in receiving yards.

Notre Dame starting quarterback Tommy Rees believes that Jones will only improve upon those sterling statistics, via LaMond Pope of the Chicago Sun-Times.

"I think TJ has improved in the past three years," Rees said. "I think he can be a great receiver this year. I think he can really step out of the role he's been in and take on a bigger one."

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly is also among those hyping Jones, also via Pope.

"Sometimes he doesn't get enough of the accolades," Kelly said. "I think he's a great receiver."

...

In his fourth season as a starting wide receiver at Notre Dame, Jones has more than earned a name for himself among the Notre Dame faithful.

But it's time the senior breaks through to the forefront of the national conscience, something Kelly pushed through a rather glaring comment he gave during a press conference last week.

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The fourth-year head coach made it no secret he believes the Irish possess a first-round NFL draft pick in Jones.

Should Kelly's proclamation come to fruition, it would signify Jones' career having come full circle.

From an underrated freshman receiver to a college student being forced to grow up too fast, Jones has nearly experienced it all. The final page of this chapter of his life begins Saturday.

And he's one step closer to gaining the ability to take care of the family left behind by his late father. 

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