Pair of Maryland prep standouts from same school committed to Badgers
Badgers recruits Chris Jones (left), a wide receiver, and running back Taiwan Deal were part of a DeMatha team that finished 11-1 last season and won the Washington Area Catholic Conference title game. Deal rushed for 122 yards in the championship and Jones caught a touchdown pass.
A pedigree of football success at one level does not guarantee prosperity on the next rung. But given the high school backgrounds of Chris Jones and Taiwan Deal, the duo should have no problem transitioning to life on college football’s big stage.
At least, that’s the word from DeMatha Catholic (Md.) football coach Elijah Brooks, who has seen enough Division I standouts roll through his program to know which players have what it takes to excel. Brooks said seven of his players from this past season are committed to FBS schools, including Jones and Deal, who both are expected to sign their national letters of intent Wednesday to play at Wisconsin. Six more DeMatha players are committed to programs at the FCS level.
"Obviously as you get to the next level, it’s more and more competition," Brooks said. "Our guys learn to compete on a daily basis here in our program, whether it’s weight training or spring practice or fall practice. Ultimately it just becomes second nature. It definitely helps prepare our kids."
Jones, a wide receiver, and Deal, a running back, were part of a DeMatha team that finished 11-1 last season and won the Washington Area Catholic Conference title game — the team’s first championship since 2008. Deal rushed for 122 yards in the championship and Jones caught a touchdown pass.
The story of Jones and Deal both committing to the same college program began back in June, when Deal made his first Wisconsin visit. Deal committed over the summer and couldn’t stop praising the Badgers’ program.
"Once he got back, he told me all about it," Jones said. "He was so excited for it. He said he couldn’t wait to get up there. He had to tell me once I get a chance to go up there, you’ll really like it. That stuck in my mind before I went up there. I just couldn’t wait to go up there and see what Taiwan was talking about."
Jones, who struck up a relationship with wide receivers coach Chris Beatty, became so enamored with Wisconsin that he committed in September — three months before he actually went on an official visit. And in doing so, he became the first of five wide receivers to commit in the Badgers’ Class of 2014.
Wisconsin recently added Fort Lauderdale, Fla., product George Rushing to the wide receiver mix, along with Dareian Watkins (Gallon, Ohio), Natrell Jamerson (Ocala, Fla.) and Krenwick Sanders (Jesup, Ga.).
Jones, a Scout.com three-star player, might not jump out in the same way as other recruits. He is rated as the No. 145 overall wide receiver in his class and shared the field last season with top receiver Cameron Phillips, who is headed to Virginia Tech.
But Jones shines in big moments. He put on a show in the Blue-Grey All-American bowl last month, when he caught three touchdown passes in the first half, including a 79-yard reception, and was named the game’s MVP.
"Chris’ ability to stretch the field makes him an outstanding player," Brooks said. "He has very good ball skills. He’s a smooth route runner and he’s a heck of a competitor. He’ll do all the intangibles, all the little things to help the team win. He’s very unselfish, but he wants to make plays. I think he’s going to do that."
Jones said he recognized Wisconsin’s need at wide receiver for next season and hoped to make an impact soon. The Badgers lose No. 1 wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, who caught 78 passes for 1,081 yards and seven touchdowns. In fact, of the 217 team receptions made last season, only 42 came from players that will return in 2014. Of those 42 catches, 28 came from receivers.
"As far as filling in for Jared Abbrederis’ shoes, I feel like I can be that go-to guy to stretch the field as well," Jones said. "I can go in there and try to make things happen.
"Not only can I stretch the field, I can make good blocks. I can do jet sweeps. I can play special teams. Whatever Wisconsin puts me at, I feel like I can be that guy to make that play in whatever situation they need me in. I’ll be able to do it."
Deal, meanwhile, comes to Wisconsin with far more fanfare. He was named as Maryland’s Gatorade Player of the Year after rushing for 1,102 yards and 14 touchdowns on just 147 carries — an average of 7.49 yards per attempt.
The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Deal was part of a backfield that included Mark Allen, who is headed to Penn State, sophomore Lorenzo Harrison, who has an offer from Virginia, and freshman Anthony McFarland, who has an offer from Florida. For that reason, Brooks said Deal would have no problem fitting in at Wisconsin, which already has junior Melvin Gordon and sophomore Corey Clement firmly cemented as the team’s top two ball carriers.
"He’s going to do just fine," Brooks said of Deal, who did not respond to messages for an interview. "Here at DeMatha, he had to share the backfield with two other BCS kids. That’s the environment we create here at DeMatha, and ultimately it makes your team better. He’s not afraid of competition. He knows what’s ahead of him. And he’s going to come in ready to work."
Jones, who is 6-2 and about 190 pounds, said one of his main goals was to bulk up in the weight room. Brooks said Deal was still raw in a lot of his running abilities and would need to work on lowering his pad level and being more decisive in some of his cuts.
Still, Brooks has no doubt what his players are capable of if they continue to work at Wisconsin.
"Both of them have the tools," he said, "to be outstanding players."