Matt and Lakeischa Jones had mapped out five schools for their son Jarron to consider as finalists – Penn State, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Syracuse and Notre Dame – before embarking on trips to see the four farthest away. An ‘official unofficial’ visit to nearby Syracuse still hasn’t occurred, but will in the future.
“We wanted him to have knowledge of these schools, so we packed up the family and went and visited these places,” Matt Jones sad. “We sat down and talked to these coaches. We asked questions, talked to the players there. We wanted him to make a knowledgeable decision because it is going to be his decision and is something he has to be comfortable with.”
The family found a way to merge Jarron’s recruitment with family vacations, making stops around the country at nearby family parks. The round of visits in June was capped with a trip to Notre Dame and Jarron withdrew his verbal from the Nittany Lions upon his return. Even Jarron’s father isn’t sure how much the visit to Notre Dame had to do with his decommitment.
“I don’t know what he was thinking,” Matt said. “Knowing what he needs academically is a smaller class size and the personalized teaching; I think that had a part to play in it. I don’t think it had anything to do so much with the coaches at Notre Dame, I think it had more to do with learning about what Notre Dame was and who they are.”
But Matt and his wife were certainly impressed with Brian Kelly’s staff, especially defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, during their stop in South Bend.
“Oh, I loved Coach Kelly, loved Diaco even more,” Lakiescha said. “I loved Diaco’s enthusiasm. My husband was very impressed with the fact that they’re young, they have a lot of ideas and they seem like they know what they’re doing. I love what they’re planning to do and they really make you see it. They’re not telling my son he’s going to be the star or that he’s going to be the only one. He’s going to part of a puzzle.”
Aquinas head coach Chris Battaglia has been able to relate to Jarron and Matt believes Diaco’s youth would help him relate to Jarron as well.
“We were very impressed with his straight-forwardness,” Matt said of Diaco. “We were very impressed that he was so young and energetic. That’s another thing that I was looking for in a coaching staff. Coach Battaglia is young and energetic and that’s what motivates Jarron.
“Nothing against coaches who are a little bit older because I know they’re very, very knowledgeable, but I don’t know if they’re as energetic as Diaco would be.”
At the request of his father, Jarron followed the 2011 recruiting process over the internet to get an idea of what would be on the horizon for him. One prospect Jarron followed was Ishaq Williams, so the family heard about Diaco’s 4:30 a.m. wakeup call in Brooklyn, which sealed Williams’ commitment to the Irish.
“We thought it was pretty funny,” Matt laughed. “I don’t think he could go the same route with us. At 4:30 a.m., he might be out there for a pretty long time.”
Jarron had the chance to meet Williams along with Manti Te’o during his visit to Notre Dame.
“He was very impressed with them and how friendly they were and how forthcoming they were,” Matt said of the Irish defenders. “Just thinking about playing on that defensive line with somebody like Ishaq behind him, that was an added bonus.”
There was a lot to like about Notre Dame for the Jones family.
“For me personally, just having the serenity of God and God’s presence is great,” said Lakiescha. “I know God is everywhere, but Notre Dame being a Catholic school, I do feel there is more of a presence. There is more serenity when you have a school that puts God first, before everything.”
Jarron’s older brother attends a Catholic university and all of the Jones kids are encouraged to use their faith for guidance.
“I always tell them, ‘If anything ever happens and you feel things are so bad and you can’t get in touch with me or your dad or your grandma, you go to the Chapel,’” said Lakiescha. “‘You get on your knees and you tell him. Even though you don’t have to go to the Chapel, you can get on your knees in your room, there’s nothing like going and knowing you have a church and there’s somewhere you can go 24-hours-a-day. Having someone and having other people and resources to depend on and having faith is important.”
After making the trip to South Bend, the family would feel comfortable sending their son outside of the radius they set with the idea of keeping him close.
“Now that we’ve met with Coach Kelly and the defensive coaches and some of the players, as far as parents, we can trust Notre Dame,” said Matt, who is convinced Kelly will have success at Notre Dame.
“I look at the work Coach Kelly has done so far. He’s won everywhere he’s been and now that he’s getting a shot at one of the best schools in the nation, I don’t think it should be any different.”
Lakiescha was impressed with the honesty of the Irish staff.
“I never want to be sold that my son is going to be the biggest and the best because he’s not,” she said. “He has work to do. I know that with college, he can get better and get stronger. I want him to understand that he’s always going to have to be fighting for his position. There’s a walk-on who can easily come in and maybe they didn’t get the attention he got, but he can come in and get that spot. That’s a reality.
“I tell all of my kids, ‘I’m going to be your biggest cheerleader, but I’m going to be you’re biggest critic, because that’s reality.’ Some people think I’m too hard on my kids, but I don’t want someone to say something to my son that they haven’t already heard from me. They’re going to know what they heard from me is the truth and if someone is saying something worse that they haven’t heard from me, they know that’s not even true. They know I’m going to tell them face-value regardless. I’m going to give it to them cards-up. Why even hide anything? The world is going to treat them worse than I am, but they know I love them.”
The series' final installment will be published later on Tuesday.