SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Alize Jones immediately took accountability for his mistakes that led the promising sophomore tight end to be ruled ineligible for the 2016 season, which is exactly what his coach wanted to see.
While being without a 6-foot-4, 240 pound athletic freak who could’ve developed into a top target for DeShone Kizer or Malik Zaire certainly is far from ideal — especially for an offense that has to replace go-to receivers in Will Fuller and Chris Brown — coach Brian Kelly praised Jones for owning his one-year ban from playing. Jones published a note to Twitter on Wednesday mentioning academics as the reason for his ineligibility.
“I’m pleased with him in the sense that he’s understanding what he needs to do, he understands his shortcomings and what he’s gotta work on,” Kelly said. “He’s a young man that is maturing and growing and he’s got a bright future. He’s just not going to play football for us this year.”
Jones will be permitted to practice and train with his teammates during the fall semester and can return to play on Saturdays in 2017 with three years of eligibility remaining.
With Jones out, though, Notre Dame will have to lean on a group of tight ends that only has seven receptions between four players. Last year, Durham Smythe (four catches, 25 yards in his career) was injured for nearly the entire season, Nic Weishar (three catches, 19 yards) wasn’t strong enough to consistently get on the field, Tyler Luatua was primarily used as a downhill blocker and Jacob Matuska was a reserve defensive lineman. Jones caught 10 passes for 190 yards as a true freshman in 2015.
Smythe is healthy and in his fourth year in the program, and Kelly said Weishar has the necessary strength to succeed as an in-line blocker.
The return of Luatua — who returned to the team over the summer after announcing his intent to transfer in the winter — and addition of Matuska to Scott Booker’s unit gives Notre Dame a pair of big, physical players who can help out as blockers, too.
“We've got two guys that are multidimensional that can do all the things and two real physical guys that at the point of attack and it gives us really great depth,” Kelly said.
Jones’ ban, though, comes on the heels of a number of academic suspensions over the last few years of the Kelly era. Only cornerback KeiVarae Russell returned from 2014’s investigation into academic dishonesty, with wide receiver DaVaris Daniels and linebacker Kendall Moore ending their college careers and Ishaq Williams getting strung out by the NCAA before being ruled ineligible last year. The late running back Greg Bryant was ruled ineligible for the 2014 season due to academics, as was quarterback Everett Golson in 2013.
Kelly bristled at the notion losing players due to academics is a problem exclusive to Notre Dame, though, and mentioned that his players are going up against “Army academic All-Americans and Under Armour academic All-Americans” in the classroom.
“Look, Notre Dame is hard,” Kelly said. “And if you're not prepared and if you're not going to come here with the focus and attention to work in the classroom, you could get dinged.
“And I'm not afraid to say that to anybody or any mom or dad when I go into the home; and you'd better be prepared to work hard in the classroom.
“But I also know that you can overcome it, and that we'll stick with you and we'll support you and we'll be there for you. We're not going to throw you aside. We're going to back you up and make sure that you grow and develop as a man and that you take accountability for your actions and that you're better for it.”