Vanderbilt football coach Derek Mason and his receivers coach, Cortez Hankton, spent Tuesday night in the home of Miles Jones, the American Heritage game-breaker.
Jones, a 5-9, 170-pound senior who plays wide receiver and running back and returns kickoffs and punts, has committed to playing for Vandy in one of the nation’s best conferences (Southeastern) while also studying at a top academic institution.
So which one worries Jones more, those brutal defenders in the SEC or those intimidating college professors?
That’s an easy answer, as it turns out.
Never miss a local story.
“I’m worried about being up late night finishing essays and homework,” said Jones, who has a 3.73 grade-point average and plans on studying computer programming.
On the field, it’s coaches who worry about Jones, who has scored 16 touchdowns this season — 12 on runs, two on kickoffs of 95-plus yards and two on receptions. He also took a punt return all the way back, but it was nullified by a penalty.
On Friday afternoon, Jones will lead the Patriots (12-0) against Baker County (13-1) in a Class 5A state final.
Heritage, ranked fifth in the nation by USA Today and seventh by Maxpreps, has won 26 games in a row and is seeking its second consecutive state title.
Baker County, a school founded in 1945, has won 13 games in a row but had never been past the second round of the playoffs before this season. The Wildcats rarely pass and average 278 yards per game. They will try to kill the clock, keeping playmakers such as Jones off the field.
But Heritage coach Patrick Surtain Sr. is determined to get Jones his touches.
“He’s supremely talented,” Surtain said. “We put him in different situations, and he delivers.”
Surtain said he knew Jones was “special” when he saw him years ago, playing for West Pines Optimist. Surtain was coaching Pembroke Pines Optimist at that time.
Jones went on to St. Thomas Aquinas for his freshman year. He transferred to Heritage as a sophomore, but barely played that season because of an injury.
As a junior, Jones had 1,315 all-purpose yards, scoring five TDs rushing, one as a receiver and one on a kick returner. This season, he has 1,763 all-purpose yards.
In last week’s 28-21 state semifinal win over Immokalee, Jones ran 12 times for 142 yards and one touchdown. He averaged 11.8 per rush, and his 73-yard score was the game-winner in the fourth quarter.
Surtain sees Jones as a versatile player at Vanderbilt.
“As a slot receiver, he will have more room to work, and he’ll present major problems for defenses,” Surtain said. “He has that quick twitch.
“I don’t know that he’ll get 20 carries a game in the SEC. But he can get five carries plus receptions and kick returns. He’s a tough kid.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ Heritage has five of the top 155 seniors in the nation. Baker County has no players in the ESPN 300. Four of Heritage’s stars are on defense: cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr. (ranked sixth); cornerback Tyson Campbell (11th); defensive tackle Nesta Silvera (95th); and defensive end Andrew Chatfield (155th).
▪ Jones, who is not rated in the top 300, said Surtain Jr. “is liking Alabama more and more,” with LSU second. Jones said Silvera is solid to Miami, but Campbell, he said, wears a Georgia backpack to school and is likely to become a Bulldog. Chatfield, Jones said, likes Miami.
IF YOU GO
What: The 55th state football championships.
When: Thursday through Saturday.
Where: Camping World Stadium, 1 Citrus Bowl Place, Orlando.
Tickets: $12-$17 in advance, $15-$20 at the gate; Parking: $10.
2016 state champions – Class 8A: Miami Southridge; 7A: Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas; 6A: Miami Carol City; 5A: Plantation American Heritage; 4A: Cocoa; 3A: Jacksonville Trinity Christian; 2A: Jacksonville University Christian; 1A: Pahokee.
Thursday’s games – Class 1A: Madison County vs. Blountstown, 1; Class 4A: Cocoa vs. Jacksonville Raines, 7.
Friday’s games – Class 2A: Hialeah Champagnat Catholic vs. Jacksonville University Christian, 10 a.m.; Class 5A: Plantation American Heritage vs. Baker County, 3; Class 6A: Miami Northwestern vs. Seffner Armwood, 8.
Saturday’s games – Class 3A: Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna vs. West Palm Beach Oxbridge Academy, 10 a.m.; Class 7A: Venice vs. St. Johns Bartram Trail, 3; Class 8A: Delray Beach Atlantic vs. Orlando Dr. Phillips, 8.
CLASS 5A – AMERICAN HERITAGE (12-0) vs. BAKER COUNTY (13-1)
Coaches – AH: Patrick Surtain (2nd year, 26-0); BC: Jamie Rodgers (4th year).
How they got here – AH: d. Merritt Island 42-0; Orlando Bishop Moore 56-27; Cardinal Gibbons 58-57 (3OT); Immokalee 28-21; BC: d. Nature Coast Tech 34-7; Menendez 37-28; Grove Springs Clay 29-14; West Florida 48-28.
Playoff history – AH: 31-20 (won state titles in 2013, 2014, 2016); BC: 10-12 (first state appearance).
Probable offensive starters – AH: QB Cam Smith, 6-4, 190, Sr.; RB Jordan Johnson, 5-10, 190, Sr.; WR Marcus Lodge, 6-5, 185, Sr.; WR Josh Alexander, 5-9, 170, Sr.; WR Miles Jones, 5-9, 180, Sr.; WR Anthony Schwartz, 6-0, 175, Sr.; RT Troy Ingle, 6-5, 280, Sr.; RG Tyler Milord, 6-3, 285, Jr.; C Zack Zambrano, 6-4, 292, Sr.; LG Jacob Kaplan, 6-4, 288, Sr.; LT Jack Fris 6-5, 300, Sr.; K Jared Elstein, 6-0, 170, Sr.; BC: N/A.
Probable defensive starters – AH: DB Patrick Surtain II, 6-2, 190, Sr.; DB Tyson Campbell, 6-2, 185, Sr.; DB Anthony Brown, 6-2, 175, Sr.; DB Dyllon Lester, 6-0, 185, Sr.; DB Ruben Hyppolite, 6-0, 205, So.; LB Calvin Hart, 6-2, 220, Sr.; LB Joel Wilson, 5-10, 190, Sr.; DL Andres Garcia, 6-1, 205, So.; DL John Alyn, 6-3, 225, Sr.; DL Nesta Silvera, 6-2, 295, Sr.; DL Andrew Chatfield, 6-3, 220, Sr.; P Jared Elstein, 6-0, 170, Sr.; BC: N/A.