NEW YORK – Notre Dame interim offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock remembers the ball bouncing off receiver TJ Jones head four years ago.
Jones was a freshman then and Denbrock had arrived at Notre Dame with new Irish coach Brian Kelly as the tight ends coach before moving to coach Jones position group, outside receivers, the last two seasons.
Missed catches and a player who described himself as selfish when he first came to college are nothing more than memories as Jones prepares to play his final game when the No. 25 Irish (8-4) face Rutgers (6-6) in Saturdays Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.
Hes a grown man, Denbrock said at Thursdays news conference. Hes gone through all the stages of development that a lot of people do and a lot of student-athletes do. Hes taken full advantage of every resource that the University of Notre Dame has ever provided. Hes taken from where he was when we all saw him as a freshman with the ball bouncing off his head to being a feature and being a key to our success in every game weve played this year.
Jones was the Irishs leading receiver in six of 12 games and had more than 100 receiving yards in five games this season.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound senior had team highs in receptions (65), receiving yards (1,042) and touchdown catches (9).
He is the seventh Notre Dame receiver to have more that 1,000 receiving yards in a season and is in the top 10 of eight school receiving records, including No. 2 in career receptions with 176.
He makes plays and catches, and its kind of like, TJs pretty good, quarterback Tommy Rees said. He came as a freshman as a really talented guy, played as a freshman. But the way he has grown and matured and learned how to handle things, how to play and make plays for us all year, it has been incredible to watch.
As much as Jones has done on the field, he is just as proud of what he has done away from football at Notre Dame.
Jones had to grow up in a way he didnt expect when his father, Andre, who played defensive end for Notre Dame from 1987 to 91, died in the summer of 2011.
I believe I grew into the man that I am today at a very young age, Jones said. I matured quicker. I became the man of my house, and it taught me how to be a leader for my family. It allowed me to think bigger picture. Before it was what TJ wants, now it is what is best for my younger siblings and my mother.
Jones is proud of the player and man he became at Notre Dame, and he wouldnt change how he got to where he is today.
Its been a roller coaster, for sure, Jones said. A lot of highs, a lot of lows, a lot of emotional distress, a lot of excitement, and its all ended up, I cant say bad. In my eyes, its kind of perfect.
The good, the bad, the crazy to the wild to the exciting to now ending up here at Yankee Stadium.