While he was sitting with other recruits in the south end zone of The Swamp during last year’s Florida-Tennessee game, John Jones allowed himself to close his eyes for just a moment. As he listened to the deafening roar of the crowd, he envisioned himself on the field and for that brief moment, he dreamed that the 90,000-plus fans were screaming for him.
It was at that moment that Jones knew he wanted to be a Florida Gator. He grew up following the Gators and always dreamed of one day playing football at the University of Florida, but hearing the crowd and feeling the excitement in the air, he knew this is where he wanted to be. Tuesday, he made it official that he will be a Gator when he called the Florida coaching staff to make a verbal commitment.
“It seemed like the right thing to do,” said Jones, a 6-3, 205-pound defensive end/linebacker from Sarasota Booker. “I knew this was where I wanted to be and I wanted to get recruiting out of the way so I can concentrate on what I have to do in the season.”
He has three goals for the upcoming high school season and he won’t be satisfied unless he reaches all three of them.
“First, I want to win a state championship,” he said. “We made it to the state championship game last year but we came up short. This year we want to finish it the right way.
“Second, I want to break the state record for sacks. I think it’s something like 32 and I had 23 last year. I think I can improve this year and maybe have a shot at breaking the record.”
The third goal is the one that he considers most important.
“I want to keep improving my grades because I want to be ready for the University of Florida,” said Jones, who has a 2.5 grade point average. “My grades are okay, but I can do better and I need to do better because of Florida’s academics. That’s the most important goal of all.”
He’s not sure what will be his major at Florida. He says there’s plenty of time to decide that. Right now, he loves his high school history classes the most so that might be an option once he is at Florida.
He played defensive end last year for Booker, but he’s moving to linebacker this year. He projects as either an outside linebacker or safety at the next level. He says where he plays is irrelevant. Getting on the field is all that matters.
“I’ll play anywhere you want me to play as long as you let me play,” he said. “I just want to be on the field. You can’t make plays if you’re not on the field.”
Making plays is his forte. He uses his quickness to maneuver in traffic to get to the ball and he’s got the kind of speed that he can run an opponent down from behind. Jones runs a consistent 4.6 in the 40 but he’s had a best time of 4.55. He can bench press 280 and his goal is to get that well over 300.
“My speed and quickness are my best assets,” he said. “I’m pretty elusive so I can avoid blockers and make plays. I feel that wherever you line me up, I can make plays on the field. I think I’ve got good instincts to find the football.”
He chose Florida over Auburn, Georgia, LSU and Michigan. Florida already had the edge because he grew up a Gator fan, but it was Coach Urban Meyer and the rest of the Florida coaching staff that was the deciding factor in his decision.
“When I came up to Gainesville, I was really impressed with the academics and stuff,” he said. “The Florida coaching staff is what made it an easy choice.”
Another factor in the decision was his best friend, Gary Clark. Clark was a star guard and the leading scorer for Booker’s state championship basketball team last year. Clark, who has transferred to Monteverde Academy, is going to be part of Florida’s basketball recruiting class of 2007.
“He’s my best friend and he’s going to be a Gator, too,” said Jones. “That helped me make my decision.”
But the decision was really made back last September when he was at The Swamp.
“I knew that was the kind of atmosphere I would like playing in,” he said. “I pictured myself playing for the Gators. This was where I wanted to be.”