JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mac Jones is a lesson in seeing the process through.
Sounds boring, doesn’t it?
Just how unique is the former Bolles star and current Alabama quarterback’s story? In a world of transfer portals and program hopping for better opportunity, Jones’ 2020 football season is what coaches on every level point to and preach about.
Put in the work and the rewards will follow. It’s an adage his high school coach at Bolles, Corky Rogers, lived by. You can believe that Nick Saban drills that in, too. It’s a blueprint in willpower, belief, and, that well-worn cliché that pops up everywhere.
Trust the process.
Jones led Alabama to a 13-0 season, capped by Monday night’s 52-24 pasting of Ohio State. He set the record for passing yardage in the College Football Playoff National Championship game (464 yards) and added five touchdown passes. Jones won the Davey O’Brien Award, finished third in the Heisman Trophy race and is poised to be a first-round draft selection if he opts to leave Tuscaloosa as a redshirt junior. Jones already has his college degree.
If any person claims that they saw any of this coming, well, that makes one of you.
How unlikely was something like this in the Saban era? Jones transferring would have been a far more believable than what actually transpired.
Under Saban, Alabama has signed 18 high school quarterbacks since his hire in January 2007. If we’re splitting hairs, it’s actually 17 true quarterbacks and one player (Blake Sims) who was classified an athlete and went on to play under center for the Crimson Tide.
Using 247 Sports rankings, Jones was the No. 399 overall player in the Class of 2017. Only four quarterbacks Saban has signed (Nick Fanuzzi in 2007, Phillip Ely in 2011, Alec Morris in 2012 and Parker McLeod in 2013) have ranked lower than Jones. All four transferred.
Of those 18 signees, 11 of them transferred and didn’t finish their careers at Alabama. Those 18 include 2019 signee Paul Tyson, 2020 signee Bryce Young, the expected successor to Jones, and 2021 signee Jalen Milroe. So, that number is actually more impressive than it seems.
Only, AJ McCarron (2009), Blake Sims (2010), Tua Tagovailoa (2017), Tyson, Jones, Young and Milroe have signed letters of intent and spent all of their time — so far for the newer signees — in Tuscaloosa.
Based on that Saban sample size — and the Class of 2017 quarterback class as a whole — it was far more likely that Jones would have wound up elsewhere than stay put. Staying put was a much, much more daunting path than transferring would have been.
Jones was 247Sports’ 29th rated quarterback in the Class of 2017. Of those 28 players ahead of Jones, Tagovailoa and Jake Fromm both entered the NFL draft early and just completed their rookie seasons in the league. Eighteen others who were ahead of Jones in those rankings have already transferred, recently entered the portal or given no indication on their future, as is the case with Dylan McCaffrey at Michigan.
James Blackman, Chase Brice, Braxton Burmeister, Danny Clark, Tristan Gebbia, Kasim Hill, Bailey Hockman, Hendon Hooker, Hunter Johnson, Ryan Kelley, Tate Martell, Lowell Narcisse, N’kosi Perry, Shawn Robinson, Chris Robison, Jack Sears and Keytaon Thompson were all ranked above Jones. Each has transferred — some more than once — or recently entered the transfer portal.
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Jones not only signed with Alabama knowing that he may never see meaningful playing time but did so knowing that the Crimson Tide weren’t going to stop trying to bring blue chip players to Tuscaloosa while he was there.
I covered Jones during his career at Bolles and will be the first to say that I couldn’t have been more off about what Jones’ ceiling in college would be. He had initially committed to Kentucky in July 2015. I thought that program was perfect for Jones to excel at. But Alabama? No way.
Why wasn’t Jones a major storyline every time he took the field at Bolles? Fair question, and one that I heard in the pressbox on more than one occasion back then.
When people hear the words, ‘Alabama commit,’ it amplifies that player significantly. You think Derrick Henry. You think one-time Crimson Tide pledge and future Mr. Football Carson Beck. You think receiver Chris Black, guys who tortured opposing defenses during their time in high school. Those types of players should walk on water.
At Bolles, though, Jones’ numbers, while solid, were skewed by the offense that the Bulldogs ran, and how good that team was. Players didn’t go to Bolles to be passing quarterbacks.
Jones played as a sophomore after starter Joe Edden was injured, but his first full season as unquestioned starter was in 2015. He passed for 1,699 yards, 19 TDs and six interceptions that regular season. Jones was a Kentucky commit that year. An Alabama offer came in the next summer, largely based on the merits of how Jones performed on the camp circuit, something that didn’t appear in the box scores of the Saturday morning paper.
So, locally, fans didn’t see a whole lot of Jones on the field unless they got to their seats early. They didn’t fully realize the offseason buzz that he generated playing 7 on 7 for his Pro Impact squad or hitting the camps in the summer.
Bolles demolished teams during Jones’ senior season, and he was largely spectator more than player after halftime in all but one regular season game, a 24-23 classic against Raines. The Bulldogs reached the championship game that year and lost to Cocoa, 31-17. Jones passed for 1,532 yards and 23 TDs, throwing just two interceptions. Very good numbers, but not earthmoving.
Elsewhere in the area, Trinity Christian, led by cornerback Shaun Wade, was busy winning a state record-tying fourth consecutive championship. Ponte Vedra quarterback Nick Tronti was torching defenses and piling up yardage (3,978 he was responsible for) and touchdowns (53) at a staggering clip. Tronti won Mr. Football that season.
There were far bigger major recruits in the pipeline, too. Wade was the headliner. Trinity receiver DJ Matthews. Clay running back Colin Wilson. Sandalwood cornerback Ameer Speed. All were rated higher than Jones that cycle.
We all witnessed what happened next.
Jones sat behind Jalen Hurts and Tagovailoa. And he sat some more. Jones got his foot in the door for the first time in 2019 when Tagovailoa suffered a season-ending hip injury. That four-game audition paved the way for 2020 and one of the best seasons by a quarterback in Alabama history.
No one saw it coming.
And that’s the best kind of ending you can ask for.