In 2018, London High School football coach Kyle Cutler found himself in need of someone to step up and play cornerback. His defensive coaches had somebody in mind, but they also knew Cutler isn’t a huge fan of putting ninth graders on a varsity defense.
But they told him anyway, because the answer seemed obvious.
“I went to them and said, ‘Who’s our corner?'” Cutler said. “They said, ‘You’re not gonna want to hear this, but Isaiah Jones.’ I said, ‘Alright, well he’s going to have to prove it.'”
And Jones did. In an early season game he took an interception back for a touchdown, then had another interception that helped seal a win in a regional semifinal playoff game.
“That was just foreshadowing probably his whole career, looking back,” Cutler said.
Jones, a three-star recruit who committed to Indiana on Sunday to become the fifth member of the Hoosiers’ Class of 2022, hasn’t played cornerback since. However, he has played almost every other position on defense as well as several on offense and has been successful everywhere thanks to a unique combination of athleticism, power and intellect. A three-sport athlete who also plays basketball and throws the shot put and discus on the track team and the son of former Ohio State tight end D.J. Jones, Isaiah has played safety, outside linebacker, inside linebacker, running back, tight end and quarterback in his career. He seems to be settled now at inside linebacker where he expects to play his senior year, and he expects to be something of a hybrid back in London’s Wing-T/flexbone offense, provided its quarterback stays healthy, but he’s proven time and time again he can move if it’s necessary.
“That’s what makes Isaiah unique is he has multiple skill sets,” Cutler said. “… He’s a true athlete, he’s a three-sport athlete, and all those experiences add to his football game. He has that ability where he can play in space. He understands the schematics of what an offense is trying to do. And not only can he run well, not only is he strong, but he has a motor and a desire to get to the football.”
Jones is an inside linebacker now in part because he has grown into the position. He weighed about 185 pounds as a freshman, but now he’s up to 6-foot-2, 220 pounds which gives him more heft to make plays between the tackles. Moving inside also give him more of an opportunity to affect every play, as he can chase down ball-carriers wherever they go and can also cover running backs, tight ends and slot receivers in space.
“You want to put one of your best players in a position to impact every play,” Cutler said. “Not just put him somewhere they can run away from him.”
And it’s hard to run away from Jones because he’s excellent at knowing where the ball is going before it gets there. He gets joy out of watching film from his father and also from Cutler. He looks not just for formation but can also read plays and has a good general sense of what an offense is trying to accomplish because he’s played offense. It’s clear on his recruiting film that he frequently knows where the ball is going before it gets there.
That’s a big reason why he led London with 63 tackles last season and finished second in the Central Buckeye Conference with 5.5 sacks.
“I love the preparation, the hunt as you might call it,” Jones said. “I feel like that’s what makes a good Mike linebacker. The preparation and the week before in the film. If you line up and you see the formation and you know exactly what they’re going to run, it just makes it that much sweeter. That just lets you play that much faster.”
As much as he’s enjoying having a set position at London, he also likes the fact that Indiana’s defensive coaches told him they are interested in moving him around or at least giving him the opportunity to show that he can make an impact at several different positions.
Indiana’s defense is based on unpredictability and hybrid positions. The Hoosiers run a 4-2-5 formation, but they can shift responsibilities and therefore players depending on down and distance and opponent personnel. They have two standard linebackers, but also a Bull who can play as a stand-up defensive end who can drop back in coverage as well as rush the passer. They sometimes use three cornerback types with one of them playing a nickel position, but they also use a Husky who generally has a safety-type body but also blitzes off the edge.
That gives someone with Jones’ body type several spots at which he can make an impact, which is something he found attractive about Indiana.
“When coach (Charlton) Warren recruited me, he liked that I was versatile,” Jones said. “That I could play all of those different positions, being versatile. I think that’s what their defense is. It’s versatile. You can go from Mike ‘backer to outside ‘backer to third-down rush D-end. That’s how I can see myself playing. Moving around those positions. Talking with coach Warren, that’s where he sees me playing. … He looked at me and said ‘I’m not going to make you just a Mike linebacker or just a Stinger or a Husky. One of the things we like is teaching you two to three positions, because you never know if someone goes down.”
That, Jones said, was the biggest reason he picked Indiana from a football perspective, but there was more to it than that. He said he loved Bloomington because of its college-town feel, and that the players and the coaching staff struck him as genuine. He said it ultimately made it an easy decision to pick Indiana over Minnesota, Cincinnati, Duke, Wake Forest and other schools who offered scholarships.
“My dad told me two things about the recruiting process,” Jones said. “He told me to go where you’re wanted, and to look at a place and ask yourself if you would still want to be there if you blew out your knee or something like that and couldn’t play football anymore. Indiana really checked both of those boxes.”
For more background and Jones’ junior season highlights, GO HERE.
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