Keeping up with the Joneses is never easy. Trying to keep up with these Joneses is nearly impossible, unless you can trump three Super Bowl rings.
For Isaiah Jones, growing up the son of former Dallas Cowboy linebacker Robert Jones certainly had its perks, one being that he was always guaranteed to have the coolest item at show-and-tell.
Fast forward a few years and his show is still hard to top. As far as keeping up with ECU’s Jones, defenses have also had trouble.
The true sophomore receiver is having a breakout season for the No. 19 Pirates (4-1, 1-0 AAC), with his 7.0 receptions per game as the 18th-best average in the nation and his 79.6 receiving yards per contest ranking 41st.
Two weeks ago against SMU, Jones pulled in a team-high nine passes for 130 yards and one touchdown to lead ECU to its first American Athletic Conference victory. His 30-yard catch helped quarterback Shane Carden pass former Pirates star David Garrard as the school’s all-time leader in career passing yards.
“He’s doing a great job,” Carden said. “… The relationship between me and him has just grown on and off the field. He’s a great receiver to have.”
Jones’ dad starred at East Carolina from 1998-91. In 1991, Robert Jones became the first player in school history to be named a consensus All-American and teamed up with quarterback Jeff Blake to lead ECU to an 11-1 record and a 37-34 victory over N.C. State in the Peach Bowl.
“(Growing up in that environment) definitely helped,” Jones said. “It definitely transitions to the field … I’ve had the privilege to talk to some great wide receivers like Michael Irvin. He told me and my brother (Arizona wide receiver Cayleb Jones) to never take a play off, and my dad emphasized that as well.”
Despite his bloodlines, the 6-1, 186-pounder was not exactly a prized recruit upon graduating from Stephen F. Austin High School in Texas.
“ECU is the only school that really gave me an opportunity,” Jones said. “I wasn’t really highly recruited in Texas at all. I didn’t get looks from Texas, Baylor, TCU, Texas A&M or Texas Tech, and it really bothered me being that I was in their backyard.”
Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill was more than happy to bring him into his.
“I was a little undersized, but that didn’t keep me from playing, and Coach Ruff saw something in me,” Jones said. “One night after dinner, I sent my film to him and maybe an hour-and-30 minutes later he called me back and told me that he wanted me to come play here. I just knew that this was going to be the place for me, and it wasn’t because of my dad’s play or my brother’s play, but because of my play in high school. That meant a lot to me. I don’t hold anything against any other college, but this is the only college that I feel that I should be playing at and I want to play at.”
Jones proved McNeill correct again when it comes to eyeing underrated talent. Jones ranks third in the AAC with 42 receptions (one fewer than teammate Justin Hardy) and sixth in touchdown receptions with four.
As a true freshman, Jones started eight games and caught 62 passes for 604 yards and five touchdowns to be named to the Conference USA All-Freshman team.
Those numbers are strikingly similar to the ones Hardy posted during his rookie year; he grabbed 64 balls for 658 yards and six scores. Hardy, the school’s leader in career receptions (303), receiving yards (3,536) and touchdown receptions (30), said the similarities extend beyond the stats.
“Me and Zay are so similar, I don’t really think people know,” Hardy said. “We both play inside (receiver) and I don’t think he had many offers coming out of high school either, like me. The work ethic, the chip on our shoulder coming in is both something we hang our hats on.”