Andy Staples: Top recruit Jones keeping everyone in the dark; more - Sports Illustrated

Shroud of secrecy

Publish date:

"I'm going to take some official visits and stuff," Jones told after the Under Armour All-American game Jan. 5. "I'll go out and see what I like, what I feel comfortable with."

That, in a nutshell, was Jones' plan for January and the first weekend of February. Expecting more? Don't. The nation's top receiver prospect and his camp have shrouded his recruiting process in secrecy. Even the hard-working reporters at -- who probably could sweet-talk Condoleezza Rice into giving up the president's cell number -- hadn't posted an update on Jones since Jan. 8 until the Oklahoma site SoonerScoop published a brief interview Monday about Jones' visit to Oklahoma with Foley teammate Robert Lester. "I don't know why [Jones] has been so quiet," Foley coach Todd Watson said Monday, "other than he's a quiet person."

Jones declines most interviews, and his trusted advisors provide information on a need-to-know basis. For example, Watson disputed a since-retracted report in the Gainesville (Fla.) Sun that Jones was sent home early from Florida because he was recruiting for Oklahoma. The report, which caused a minor meltdown among Alabama fans, was wrong. Jones wasn't sent home early, and he wasn't pitching the Sooners. Watson bumped into Florida co-defensive coordinator Charlie Strong last week at a coaches' conference, and Watson said Strong was equally upset at the report.

Eyewitnesses have provided news of Jones' whereabouts. He was spotted at the Florida-Kentucky basketball game in Gainesville on Jan. 19. Sunday, he was spotted at the Oklahoma-Georgia women's basketball game, confirming an official visit to Norman, Okla. That means Jones has visited Alabama (Dec. 7), Florida State (Jan. 9), Florida and Oklahoma. That leaves one more weekend before national signing day to take one more visit. So where is Jones headed? Nowhere, Watson said. Jones has narrowed his choice to four finalists.

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Jones intends to announce his decision on Signing Day, and if he and his camp can keep the news a secret until that time, the big reveal may shut down every office in the South, or at least every one in his home state. Alabama fans are counting on Jones to be the crown jewel of the recruiting class they think will bring them back to glory. Meanwhile, in the Sunshine State, Florida fans envision Jones lining up opposite Percy Harvin, while FSU fans would consider Jones' signing proof the Seminoles have rebounded after a dark period. Oklahoma fans dream of Jones catching passes from Sam Bradford.

Those fans hopefully will have to wait another nine days to learn where Jones will catch his college passes. He and his family have worked for months to allow him some privacy as he makes a potentially life-changing decision, so it only seems fair that he is allowed to reveal his choice on his own terms. I'm not recommending every prospect go into the bunker during the recruiting process -- what would I write about? -- but for a high-profile player such as Jones, the scrutiny may have been too much had he made his recruitment an open book. But even after he announces his choice, don't expect Jones to hold an hour-long press conference to break down his decision.

"He's always very humble," Watson said. "He doesn't like talking about himself. ... All this attention has kind of turned him more inward and made him more introverted."

No matter where Tahlequah (Okla.) Sequoyah High quarterback Nathan Stanley signs, he'll bring a huge fan base with him. Stanley, who visited Ole Miss and Louisiana Tech this past weekend, is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, and he would be one of only a few American Indians playing major college football.

"There's not a whole lot of Native American athletes on scholarship," said Stanley, who threw for 32 touchdowns as a senior. "I want to get up there and be a good role model."

Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford also is a registered member of the Cherokee Nation. His great, great-grandmother on his father's side was named Susie Walkingstick. But unlike Stanley, Bradford did not know much about his heritage until he reached college. Stanley, meanwhile, attends Sequoyah, a school run by the Cherokee Nation that opened in 1871 as an orphanage to care for children orphaned by the Civil War.

Stanley also has visited Maryland and Florida Atlantic, and he plans to visit Oregon State this weekend before he decides where he will sign.

In the reader comments about the Seattle Times' excellent series on the general state of lawlessness of the 2000 Washington football team that won the Rose Bowl, several Huskies fans questioned why the paper would tear open old wounds, especially so close to Signing Day. Those Washington fans shouldn't worry. Recruits and their parents are well aware that the culture has changed at Washington. They also know current Huskies coach Tyrone Willingham probably has the nation's cleanest reputation this side of Ed "Straight Arrow" Gennero, the fictional coach of the Texas State Fightin' Armadillos in the 1991 classic Necessary Roughness.

If anyone needs to worry about the facts unearthed by Times reporters, it should be UCLA fans. The stories paint an unflattering picture of ex-Washington coach Rick Neuheisel, the former Bruins quarterback who became the head coach at his alma mater last month.