D.J. Jones played with a talented defensive line unit last season for East MS CC.
Five players off that group went on to the next level. Now their returning
leading tackler, Jones, is expected to be the glue for their defense next season.
"This offseason has been really productive for me," Jones said. "I have been working out daily with our team. We are trying to get better every day. Recruiting has been going pretty good so I am just enjoying myself."
Jones and his teammates have a mature approach in trying to repeat as national champions.
"Our goals are to take it one day at a time. We are not thinking about the big picture right now. We are not taking anyone for granted. We know we have a target on our chest now so have to grind this summer and get ready for the fall.
The 6' 1", 310-pound nose guard had 48 tackles and eight sacks as a freshman. He wants to continue to work on his pass rushing skills.
"I am just working on my hands right now. I always want to continue to work on that part of my pass rushing. I think I have the run pretty much down. I just need to continue to work on my pass rushing."
Getting stronger has been a big part of taking the next step.
"I have gotten a lot stronger. I am benching 405-pounds now. I can rep 225 pounds 31 times. Last year I could only rep it 22 times. I am squatting 405 pounds twenty two times right now. Last year I was only repping it around 10 times. My whole body is just a lot stronger."
How D.J. landed at East MS CC is a familiar one most junior college players.
"I just fell behind school in my freshman and sophomore years in high school. I didn't think about academics at that point in my life. Now I do. It took some maturing on my part. Coach Jordan Leslie (East MS CC) came out here and found me. I only signed with East MS CC coming out of high school because I did not want to sign with someone and end up at another school. It would have made me look flaky. I could have signed with Tennessee or Oklahoma State though."
The South Carolina native came out with a top ten that consisted of Tennessee, South Carolina, Clemson, Southern Cal, Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, Florida, Florida State, and Georgia. This past weekend he headed out to California to take a look at the Trojans.
"It was a great visit. I got to see everything that is out there. I got to talk to coach (Steve) Sarkisian and my position coach, (Chris) Wilson. I met all of the players over there. It was really cool."
USC has a different feel than what he is use to but in a good way.
"It's something different out there. I didn't want to put them out of my list because I wanted something different. Not many Southerners do well over there because it is so different. It would be a chance for me to buck the trend, so to speak."
He and his family toured Alabama before heading over to California.
"I was at Alabama with my family. I got to sit with coach (Nick) Saban and met up with my recruiter (coach) Bo Davis for a while. I also spoke with coach (Billy Napier. He was the guy who recruited me when I was at Clemson coming out of high school. I enjoyed that trip as well."
What stood out about the Tide during the trip?
"I would have a chance to go play with some of my former teammates (Jarran Reed/D.J. Pettway). I could have a chance to play for an SEC championship every year. Alabama just kind of speaks for itself. It's a business decision but Alabama is still right there."
Jones stopped by Alabama's rival, Auburn, before his trip to Tuscaloosa.
"I got to talk to coach Gus (Malzahn). I went down there while I was at home with my family. I spoke to coach Gus for about an hour and saw a lot of things there. It was a great place."
The depth chart at Auburn is juicy.
"We sat down and they showed me what would be back and they have nobody coming back. I am not saying I would just come in and start right away, but if I did not, it would be on me. That's big for me."
"I want to know how he is going to teach me to get to the pros. This is a business decision."
The leader for D.J. received the visit before Auburn.
"Tennessee is still my leader. Alabama is probably in second. But yes, I visited Tennessee before Auburn. It was my first chance to see Tennessee. It is a great place with great facilities. Coach (Butch) Jones was basically my personal tour guide. He took me around everywhere. I basically spent the entire time with him. I met the whole staff. And like I said you ought to see some of the things they are building at Tennessee. It is amazing. Out of all of the schools I have seen so far their facilities are the best but I know facilities do not win games."
The Vols' coaches have made the biggest impact of all.
"They have been there from the start with me. I have a great relationship with those guys. Tennessee and Oklahoma State were with me coming out of high school."
Ole Miss is not of the picture as well.
"I really liked it up there. I took a little stroll up the road with a few of my teammates like Jeryl Brazil, Shack and some other guys. I met with coach (Chris) Kiffin. We sat down and watched a lot of film together. He showed how they will play me. They want to play me at the three and two technique. I will not just be playing nose guard all of the time. I will play some defensive tackle too. That's a plus. I saw my former teammate, Christian Russell, and we talked about how it is up there. I got to hang out with a lot of their players, like the Nkemdiche brothers, Bo Wallace who also played for my school, Laquon Treadwell and just a bunch of guys."
The players at Ole Miss caught his eye.
"They just enlightened me how great of a place it was up there. They just kept saying it is just the people up there. That is what made it so fun up there. I saw what they were saying. Coach Freeze kept stressing how they are on the up and coming team and want to make a move for a national championship."
Jones took in a couple instate visits while he was back home in South Carolina.
"I slipped over to Clemson and South Carolina for a couple hours. It was real brief. Me and my mom went over to South Carolina and my dad and I went to Clemson. I just met up with their coaches and talked to them for about an hour. I have been over to those campuses so many times there really is nothing more for me to see."
Would the freshman all-american like to go back to the East Coast and get around his home roots?
"Where I play makes no difference to me. I am playing in Mississippi and love it here. I have Southern Cal on my list for a reason. I don't care where I play. I am just looking at my position coach. That is what it will come down to. I want to know how he is going to teach me to get to the pros. This is a business decision."
D.J. is in no hurry to make a decision.
"I graduate in December. I plan on committing and then signing the next day. I will take all of my officials this fall and go from there."
Yancy Porter is the Mississippi Scout for Scout.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org