Dec 27, 2012, 7:08 PM EDT
TJ Jones was a broken kid.
In the minutes before Notre Dame opened the 2011 season, he grieved the loss of his father and hero, Andre Jones, standing with his mother — and 80,000 Irish fans — as the stadium stopped to commemorate the incredibly difficult losses suffered by the Fighting Irish football family.
You can hardly blame Jones if he was partially absent during that bizarre season opener against South Florida. A game where Jones racked up a season high six catches, but also let a football hit the 5-foot-11 receiver in the helmet — a ball that careened off his head and into the arms of a South Florida defender, another backbreaking turnover that ended up short-circuiting Notre Dame’s promising 2011 season before it got started.
Jones played most of last season in a fog, after his father Andre passed away suddenly in June, cut down by a brain aneurism at the far too young age of 42. He left behind six kids, with TJ the oldest, now feeling more like a provider than a college kid.
“Every second, when I’m not thinking about schoolwork or football, I’m thinking about him,” Jones said last September. “It has put a toll on me.
“I’ve got six, seven people counting on me. So every day I got to push myself that much harder to make sure that it’s not enough to make it for myself, but also for my family.”
Jones’ sophomore season was a respectable one, though not all that memorable. He caught 38 balls as a complementary part to Michael Floyd in the receiving corps, notching 366 receiving yards a year after Jones went over 300 as a freshman. But a season removed from the most difficult year of his life, Jones took to the field this season with added purpose. Some gained from a trying experience he still thinks about every day. And some because his teammates needed him.
“I really tried to make this leap in my play from last year,” Jones said in October. “As much as I wanted to better myself on the field, it was more than I could deal with, and it became more about just getting through the games.
“This year, I’m still not used to my dad not being here, but I’ve had a chance to cope with it. So when I’m on the field, I can be on the field. And when I’m off the field, I can go think about what I need to think about.”
In the aftermath of last season, Notre Dame was in desperate need of a wide receiver to step up now that Michael Floyd was gone to the NFL. Fans looked high and low for candidates. Would it be Davaris Daniels, the talented sophomore who spent last season redshirting behind Floyd? Would it be a trio of true freshman? Would John Goodman or Robby Toma make the leap during their final season in South Bend?
Turns out it was Jones making his move to the forefront, taking his game to the next level as he became an upperclassman. And his head coach most certainly noticed.
“Without question, I think there’s one guy singularly who has brought his game to a new level,” Brian Kelly said of Jones back in October, a week after his sliding touchdown catch against Stanford in overtime helped the Irish win their most dramatic game of the season. “He’s developing that mental and physical toughness, and he would tell you that. But more importantly, he’s really focused on his craft, and the skill of route-running. All of those little things that go into being a better football player.”
Jones has taken the promise that he immediately showed in his first practices at Notre Dame and refined them into a player that was among the most consistent on the Irish roster. Taking on a key role as an outside receiver, Jones was now the player that Kelly and the offensive staff craved. A guy that did things right. A guy that won one-on-one battles. A guy that made the tough catch. A player that set an example for a receiving corps still filled with newbies.
And probably more important than any of those things, a son who would have continued to make his father incredibly proud.
“He would have been jumping up and down, yelling,” Jones said of his father, reminiscing after his clutch touchdown catch against Stanford. “He probably would have been on the sideline waiting to hug me when everyone rushed the field. I definitely thought about that.”
Aug 4, 2015, 5:52 PM EDT
Two veterans on the Notre Dame football team will be permanently hanging up their cleats. Linebacker Michael Deeb and tight end Mike Heuerman have both been medically disqualified, the university announced today. Both will remain at Notre Dame, staying on scholarship while working towards their respective degrees.
Aug 4, 2015, 5:31 PM EDT
Notre Dame won’t have running back Greg Bryant this season. Already looking at a four-game suspension for violating team rules, news broke today via Irish Illustrated that the junior running back was declared academically ineligible for the fall semester, ending his season before it even began.
Aug 4, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
When last summer’s never-ending academic investigation froze Ishaq Williams’ football career, the next man on the defensive end depth chart was Isaac Rochell. After a mostly anonymous freshman season, counting on Rochell to be a starter looked like a stretch that exacerbated the Irish’s roster inefficiencies at defensive end.
Aug 4, 2015, 11:45 AM EDT
Perhaps the most impressive student-athlete on Notre Dame’s roster, Corey Robinson’s sophomore campaign saw him earn first-team Academic All-American honors, a rare achievement for an underclassman. Now the goal is something perhaps more superficial—sync up his work on the field with his achievements off of it.
Aug 4, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
We kicked off our list with five candidates for a breakout season. Our next installment seems to be doing one better: All five players have already started football games (or in one case, a game), now the goal is to become dominant performers.
Aug 3, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT
Irish fans have been waiting to see Max Redfield emerge as the star safety Notre Dame has desperately needed since Harrison Smith went to the NFL. But entering his third season, Redfield is still a work in progress.
Aug 3, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
Two seasons in and we have yet to see much from linebacker Doug Randolph. But after a shoulder injury slowed him at the beginning of his career and various injuries kept him from contributing more in 2014, perhaps a position change is what gets the rising junior back on track.
Aug 3, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
As we begin our rankings, we find a cross-section of players that represent just about every type of Brian Kelly recruit. There are blue-chippers. There are “RKGs.” And there are position switches and developmental projects.
Aug 3, 2015, 1:06 AM EDT
As a true freshman, James Onwualu found his way into the starting lineup, an unheralded freshman finding playing time by doing the little things right. As a sophomore, Onwualu made the rather unheard of transition from wideout to linebacker, and once again found himself starting football games.
Aug 2, 2015, 8:05 PM EDT
As we begin to reveal the top 25 players on Notre Dame’s roster, our raw numbers point to an intriguing amount of depth on this football team. As you consider the returning talent on this football team—only Ben Koyack, Everett Golson, Matt Hegarty and Cody Riggs depart from the Music City Bowl’s starting lineup—the depth chart and high end personnel is there, and that proof seems to be in our numbers.
Aug 2, 2015, 1:58 PM EDT
Spring hero? Tough to find a bigger one than C.J. Prosise. With numbers low in the backfield this spring, Notre Dame’s emerging slot receiver transitioned to running back—and immediately became an X factor in 2015.
Aug 1, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
For most of Romeo Okwara’s college career, the defender’s young age was mentioned when discussing the intriguing athlete’s upside. With ideal length, more than adequate athleticism and a skill set that fit in both Bob Diaco and Brian VanGorder’s defense, it was always a wait-and-see proposition for the North Carolina native, who simply needed a few years in Paul Longo’s weight room to catch up to his age.
Jul 31, 2015, 4:39 PM EDT
With the start of training camp right around the corner, it’s time for our annual tradition of ranking the Top 25 players on the Notre Dame roster.
Jul 31, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
With Kyle Brindza gone, sophomore Tyler Newsome takes over the punting duties. And outside of seeing a few not-really live kicks in the Blue-Gold game, what that means remains to be seen.
Jul 31, 2015, 11:48 AM EDT
We wrap up our offseason look at Notre Dame’s 2015 opponents with the Stanford Cardinal. The postseason could come down to a late-season showdown in Palo Alto with David Shaw’s team trying to rebound from a five-loss season.
Jul 31, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
After a redshirt season, Quenton Nelson is ready to play. Jumping to the head of the line at a crowded (and talented) position, Nelson is taking his five-star pedigree and bringing it to the starting lineup.
Jul 30, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT
This spring, you’d have probably won some money if you had Sam Mustipher emerging as the No. 2 center. But with Matt Hegarty’s departure and some failed experiments before him, it was Mustipher who was backing up Nick Martin and snapping the ball to Everett Golson in a spring game played on Notre Dame’s practice field.
Jul 30, 2015, 1:47 PM EDT
Notre Dame opens the season ranked No. 11 in the preseason USA Today Amway Coaches Poll. The Irish, who finished last season 8-5, return the majority of their starting lineup, providing some context for the bullish expectations. Only Gus Malzahn’s Auburn team is ranked higher among teams that finished with five losses in 2014.
Jul 30, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT
Last year, we saw what a talented freshman linebacker in over his head looked like. His name was Nyles Morgan, and the blue-chip recruit personified the second-half defensive collapse that flushed the Irish season down the drain. Want the good part? Stick around, as Irish A-to-Z continues.
Jul 30, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
When Brian Kelly plucked offensive lineman John Montelus from his hometown of Everett, Massachusetts, the Irish looked to be adding another mauler to the interior of Harry Hiestand’s offensive line. And after two seasons of reshaping his body and learning the ropes, Montelus is in a competitive two-deep, still looking for a role in this offense.