Cyrus Jones Jr. always strives to test his football skills against the best, from playing up an age group in Pop Warner to playing for No. 1 Gilman.
It will be no different in college. Jones is headed to No. 2 Alabama, which has appeared in and won more bowl games than any other program.
“It’s Alabama. As far as football, you can't get any better than that,” Jones said before the game. “It’s the top notch conference in America. My goal since I was a little kid was to make it to the NFL and if I’m going to have a shot at that, I’m going to put myself in the best position to get there.”
The Baltimore Sun’s Offensive Player of the Year and the Maryland Gatorade Player of the Year, Jones opted for the Crimson Tide, which will play No. 1 LSU for the BCS national championship Monday night, over more than 40 other offers. His top five also included Virginia Tech, Auburn, Ohio State and Maryland.
The first day for football recruits to sign their national letters of intent is Feb. 1.
Jones, a versatile 5-foot-10, 195-pound speedster who gained 2,365 yards and scored 24 touchdowns this fall, said he fell in love with Alabama on his first visit to the Tuscaloosa campus. He finally made up his mind last month after whittling his list to Alabama and Virginia Tech.
Although Jones played five positions this fall for Gilman — running back, receiver, cornerback, wildcat quarterback and returner — he said he will play slot receiver for the Crimson Tide.
“I just think I’m such an explosive offensive player and with the ball in my hands I need to be on the offensive side of the ball,” Jones said. “I think I easily could play corner if offense doesn’t work out, but I’m going to go with my heart first and that’s to play offense. That’s what I started out as and that’s what I love the most.”
Jones said he picked Alabama, “first and foremost [because] I just bonded most with the people down there,” especially assistant head coach Sal Sunseri, who has been recruiting Jones since his junior year.
“He’s a great guy, real enthusiastic, cares about his players,” Jones said. “I trust him a lot and all the people down there that’s been involved in my recruiting. Not only is it a great football school but a great place to spend four years of college.”
Planning to major in business or athletic training, Jones said he likes head coach Nick Saban’s commitment to academics.
He also likes the possibility of getting on the field as a freshman.
“It’s hard to play as a freshman anywhere you go,” Jones said, “especially a team that’s playing in a national championship, but I definitely think there’s a shot. Coach told me from day one that he’s going to put his best players on the field. Anybody who knows me, they know I think I can play with the best of them any day of the week. The hype doesn’t really bother me. I’m just going to go down there and play my game and try to get better.”
Jones’ father, Cyrus Jones Sr., knows a lot about the recruiting process through his role as Dunbar’s boys basketball coach and his own experience playing basketball at West Virginia, but he kept a lot of opinions too himself through his son’s recruitment. He encouraged his son to make his own decision, so he pointed out some things but did more listening than talking.
In the end, he agreed Alabama was a good fit for his son.
“He’s always been a kid who challenged himself,” Jones Sr. said. “He was always the one who was hardest on himself. My expectation of him is not necessarily for him to be a star or stand out the most, but it’s mostly based on effort. Whatever he did, he gave it his all. Along with the talent he has, I knew that was something that could take him a long way if he could understand that on the field and in the classroom you have to give 100 percent and he does.”
Jones Jr. won’t be able to attend the BCS championship game Monday night in New Orleans. He will get back to school and the Greyhounds’ basketball team after missing a week for the Under Armour game, but he’ll be watching on TV — a much more relaxed young man than he was a month ago.
“It was a big weight lifted off my shoulders,” he said of making his final decision. “I enjoyed the recruiting process. You only get recruited once and you have the make the best of it and enjoy it, but I wanted to be smart about it and not drag it out. It was a blessing to know where I was going. I could just relax and focus on school and the rest of my senior year.”