Ontario — Colony senior AJ Jones will have plenty of time to pursue a career as a wide receiver.
Right now, he’s doing whatever he can to help the Titans win.
Jones’ move to quarterback helped lead Colonie to the CIF Southern Section Division 9 championship game, where the Titans (7-6) will host St. Margaret’s (9-4) on Friday.
Jones, 6-foot-4, is a three-star wide receiver prospect according to Rivals. Jones, whose given maiden name is Antoine, started playing football at the age of about 4. He was initially a running back, but was playing quarterback by 10.
He’s been mostly football and basketball since trying baseball about eight years ago and tracking down his freshman year at the colony.
He began his high school football career as a quarterback on the freshman team, but by his sophomore year he was mostly playing wide receiver on the varsity team. That year he finished second on the team in receiving both receiving yards (521) and touchdowns (four).
“I always dreamed of playing receiver. That was my favorite position. I didn’t really get a chance to play it until my sophomore year,” Jones said.
He began to receive some college interest as a wide receiver despite a delayed, brief 2020-21 season. He found interest not only from schools such as Fresno State and Colorado State, but also from Pac-12 schools such as Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, and UCLA. And, with a 3.8 GPA, Ivy League schools like Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth were also interested.
He initially committed to UCLA last spring, but that changed after he moved to Arizona in June and announced he was working there instead on July 5.
“He just got a new coaching staff. When I did my travels, that was the energy. It was crazy energy. I thought I would be able to play there and be successful,” Jones said of his decision to pick the Wildcats. “They’re having a tough year this year. We’re going to fix that.”
He opened the 2021 season as a receiver. But with another quarterback having off-the-field issues, he was asked to be the backup quarterback behind senior Will Yates for the Week 8 game, which was also the Citrus 4 league opener against eventual league champion Glendora.
“I told him I would do whatever it takes for the team,” Jones said. “I’ll play whatever position you need me to play in.”
That week, he got about 70 percent of the snap at the receiver and another 30 percent to the quarterback.
In the second half of the Glendora game, Yates went down with a back injury and Jones was called up.
“I loved it. I had a fast touchdown in that game. I felt very comfortable back there,” Jones said.
Colonies lost the game 28-7 to drop their record to 2-6, but Yates is still out with an injury Jones was starting the following week.
“I think he understands the coverage as a receiver,” said Colony coach Brian Zavala. “He knows what beats. Now as a quarterback, it’s like, ‘Okay, I know what this guy’s going to do.'”
Since then the team has started aggressively. The Titans finished the regular season with wins over South Hills (49–6) and Los Osos (35–0) to finish second in the league and qualify for the playoffs. Since then three playoff games have also been tumultuous: victories over Portola (42–21), Western (52–27), and Ventura (28–0).
“He added some QB runs, made plays for me. That’s probably the only thing he changed,” Jones said. “I think he believed in me enough to keep everything he already had.”
So, Jones’ unusual season has him filling out the season stat sheet.
He had 500 yards of receiving and five touchdowns, one of which came in his last game at receiver this season, the second-half score against Los Osos. Since moving to quarterback, he has thrown 450 yards and 10 touchdowns without interception in five-plus games, while rushing for 326 yards and five more touchdowns. His running abilities match well with senior running backs Bryce Strong and Jamri Johnson.
In addition, he is also the opening free safety on defense, with 25 tackles and four interceptions, including a pick-six against Temecula Valley.
“He’s a great kid, very positive and grounded,” Zavala said. “With him, it’s always about, ‘What do we need to do to get better as a team?’ After practice, he would stop and throw his receiver. He is so selfless. If we played him D-end, he would play D-end.”
Jones’ high school career is almost over, and not just his football high school career. He will graduate in early December to enroll in Arizona in January.
“I’m just going to go out there and learn as much as I can, hoping to get a starting job,” Jones said. “And turn the program on, win a few games, get down to a bowl game.”
He was a big part of changing Colony’s 2021 season, so who can say he can’t change the Arizona schedule?