ROCKINGHAM — For the last two years, Tremel Jones and his Richmond Raider football teammates have spent the week of Thanksgiving gearing up for a late-round state playoff game.
This time around, during what would have been his senior season, Jones was hoping to be in the final stages of the college recruitment process and be verbally committed to play at the next level.
However, the 5-9, 171-pound wide receiver is now one of thousands of senior players across the country still in search of his next landing spot thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Brimming with talent, speed, strength and on top of his academics, Jones hasn’t given up hope and doesn’t plan to.
As the high school football season inches closer to a February start, Jones has continued his climb to attract the attention of college coaches across the country. Still uncommitted, Jones’ trademark grin shines just as bright as he still feels he has a lot to offer.
“It’s been very slow, but I’ve been getting more attention from coaches lately,” Jones said of his recruiting process. “The pandemic really stopped a lot of things from happening, but now coaches are seeing my potential. The next thing is to give them more film to watch.”
Jones was one of a handful of Richmond Raiders to workout in the VTO Sports Regional Combine just before Thanksgiving in Raleigh. The live-stream event put his skills on display, seeing Jones run the 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds, record a 42-inch vertical and bench press 185 pounds a total of 17 times.
Jones explained “it was a great experience to showcase my talents” in front of so many coaches and teams. Heading into the event, he wasn’t sure what to expect, but he told Richmond’s defensive backs coach Chris Campolieta he wanted to run the 40-yard dash in 4.40 seconds.
“I’ve been putting in so much work since COVID started and the combine was a good chance for me to open the eyes of a lot of coaches and teams,” Jones explained. “I felt like I exceeded my expectations, especially with my 40 time. It’s like something carried me the whole way.”
Jones, along with Raider teammates Jakolbe Baldwin (N.C. State commit) and Kellan Hood, made the final showcase at the combine, which featured the top-five wide receivers.
Just two days after the skills combine, Jones tweeted he’d received his first college offer from Wingate University.
Other colleges that have started to follow his progression since then have been East Carolina, Gardner Webb and Georgia State. Johnson C. Smith and Winston-Salem State are also in the mix for the wideout.
“Getting that offer was an experience that words can’t express,” Jones said. “I’ve been working for so long to achieve this dream and the pandemic slowed everything down. I still hope to achieve my goals, but Wingate offering me was a touching moment.
“Now I’m more motivated and that offer has pushed me over the edge to want to go out and get more. I know other coaches are still watching me and I refuse to let the pandemic shake down everything I’ve worked for.”
After a breakout season last fall as a junior, Jones was tied with Dalton Stroman (Appalachian State commit) for second on the team with 31 receptions. His 485 receiving yards and three touchdowns were both third-best for Richmond.
There to help his progression has been Greg Williams, Richmond’s assistant head coach and wide receivers coach. Williams, who was selected as a coach for the annual East-West All-Star Game this past year, considers Jones to be the total package.
“He’s an intelligent young man, so that means he will have the grades to qualify,” Williams said of Jones playing college ball. “On the field, it means he will know what to do and how to go about doing it. Half the battle is being in the right place at the right time doing the right thing.
“Add that to the fact he is fast, shifty, has good hands, runs good routes and is willing to block for his teammates, and you’ve got the total package. Tremel checks all the boxes that colleges should be looking for in a wide receiver.”
As Jones’ growth as a player develops, he’s also getting stronger. Since the end of last season, Jones has put on 20 pounds of muscle and credits that to doubling the amount of working out he’s done.
He’s also aiming at becoming an “Iron Raider,” which would require him to squat 425 pounds, bench 275 pounds and power clean 250 pounds based on his weight.
Williams noted that one of Jones’ greatest assets is his speed, but the key to his successful junior campaign was actually slowing down the game itself.
“Tremel has improved every year since he arrived on campus,” Williams said. “One thing that also helped was slowing the game down for him. He did everything so fast because he is so fast, and his biggest obstacle was getting the game to slow down.
“Sometimes patience is good in football. I remember talking to him on the sideline of the Cardinal Gibbons game (last year) about letting the game slow down and just processing everything before the ball was even snapped. Being a coachable kid, he learned from that and began using that to his advantage.”
Over the pandemic, Jones was able to meet with his Raider teammates during the fall months to work out on campus for team conditioning drills. He’s also spent a lot of time at home and with a handful of teammates perfecting his craft.
He said his most important focus is maintaining his schoolwork, as he hopes his 3.7 GPA will also attract college coaches. His route running and footwork have both “come a long way” and Jones said he’s now able to better “drop his hips and slow down routes” to make catching footballs easier.
The Raiders are slated to begin official practices on Feb. 8, with their first game of the shortened season at Purnell Swett High School on Feb. 26. Between now and then, Jones hopes to continue to receive other offers and showcase his talents on bigger platforms.
“In February, I’m hoping to open a lot of eyes,” Jones said. “I don’t want to just be a fast guy, but a player who can run through people, be a deep threat and be versatile on every play.
“And of course the biggest goal is to win a state championship with my teammates and coaches at Richmond.”
Williams, who has over 30 years of coaching experience, said Jones has the ability to lead by example or vocally in the locker room or on the field. From that, the veteran coach said, Jones’ confidence as a player has grown over the years.
“As his American History II teacher this semester, I’ve really been impressed with his work habits in the classroom. He has been on top of things since day one, even in this virtual learning environment,” Williams said.
“Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m more impressed on the field or in the classroom,” he closed. “If I was a college coach, Tremel is the type of kid I’d want on my team. Heck, if they would let me, I’d recruit him to stay here another year or two.”