Earlier this month 16 running backs from the state of Georgia signed letters of intent with FBS schools. Those high school seniors will soon be off to the likes of Alabama, Nebraska and South Carolina. With such a loaded class, who would have predicted that the leading rusher last year would actually be a junior?
Tyren Jones (Marietta, Ga./Walton) started the season with 216 yards and two touchdowns against Peachtree Ridge and never looked back. At the end of the year he had amassed 2,375 yards and 42 touchdowns, tops in the Peach State.
Walton head coach Rocky Hidalgo wasn’t surprised.
“Well, anybody that saw him play as a sophomore should have known he had the potential to do that,” Hidalgo said. “He is a very talented kid and it is really not surprising what he did.
“Really and truly, in so many of our games we were so far out in front that I think he only played in the second half of about four games all year long. He very easily could have rushed for 4,000 yards if some of the games had been a little more competitive.”
No wonder Jones is piling up offers as fast as he piles up touchdowns.
“I have heard from a lot of coaches that he is the best back in the country,” Hidalgo said. “I have heard that from SEC guys, ACC guys, Big Ten guys, Big 12 guys -- I have heard that from all of them.”
But Hidalgo is wary of the hype machine that can often overvalue recruits. He knows all that attention could go to a player’s head, but, he said, the 5-foot-9, 190-pound running back is immune to the notoriety.
“He is a remarkable young man and a great competitor. Most tailbacks are prima donnas, but he is not,” the coach said of Jones. “He is a grounded kid and has a great family. All the things that you really want in your star players, he has.
“I think his mom and dad have done a great job preparing him and raising him. If you have ever seen his dad around him, you would know that his dad has done a great job teaching him how to be a young man. He is going to be really, really good for some college one day.”
One of those colleges hoping to land Jones is the University of Georgia. The Bulldogs tried their best to impress him on his Jan. 28 visit to Athens for the year’s first junior day.
“The visit went pretty good,” Jones said. “I met with Mark Richt and spoke to him a couple times. I talked to the running backs coach and met a couple players up there and learned a lot. I like Georgia. I like their offense and I like the coaching staff. I like the area and that they are an SEC school.”
The Bulldogs’ top man made sure to spend a lot of time with Jones.
“Richt sounded interested and he was saying he hopes he can get me down there and have me sign on signing day. He just wished for the best for me,” Jones said. “I am just going to wait it out and see what is going on.”
His time with Richt was Jones’ favorite part of the trip.
“What I liked best was how cool the head coach was,” Jones said. “He seems like one of those guys who is laid back until it’s coaching time.”
Richt is one on a long list of coaches who have made the trip to Walton to check on Jones and his teammate Brandon Kublanow.
“Clemson actually offered on the day Mark Richt came by the school,” Jones said.
Georgia beat out Clemson for two running backs in the 2012 class in Keith Marshall (Raleigh, N.C./Millbrook) and Todd Gurley (Tarboro, N.C./Tarboro). Marshall was the No. 5 player in the nation and Gurley was a top-10 player in his state. Now, the Bulldogs and Tigers could battle for Jones as well, but he isn’t worried about a crowded backfield.
“It is not intimidating,” Jones said. “Every school is going to pick up some backs. So long as it is really not too, too many then I am not worried. Other than that I am still looking around, looking for the best school. I don’t have a top school.”
In the meantime Jones is more focused on getting a ring.
“We played in the state championship game last year and lost and he is not happy with that,” Hidaldo said. “He wants to win the championship.”
Walton lost in December to Grayson High School in the Georgia Dome and Jones wants another shot at the Rams. And Grayson just happens to have the one man who has been able to slow down Jones: Robert Nkemdiche (Loganville, Ga./Grayson), the nation’s No. 1 defensive end.
“I talked to him recently and we took pictures together at Georgia Tech one day,” Jones said. “He is a cool kid. He is a big kid, too.”
Jones will likely run into Nkemdiche on the recruiting trail as well as on the field, as both will soon be taking trips to area schools.
“On Feb. 18, I am going to Alabama,” Jones said. “I like Alabama. I like Nick Saban. I met the running backs coach a couple times and went to a couple camps.”