Please don’t show up unannounced. If you were a college recruiter with your sights set on winning over Mac Jones, you first had to touch base with Kevin Fagan.
“You couldn’t just come in during the middle of fourth period and say, ‘Hey, I want to see Mac Jones’ and go get him out of class like a lot of the public schools do and some of the private schools,” said Fagan. “They would directly speak to me and I would say, ‘You have to come at this time when we’re in activities.’”
That was the etched-in-stone rule for all potential recruiting hopefuls at The Bolles School, located in Jacksonville, Fla. A teacher/coach at Bolles who doubled as Jones’ quarterback coach throughout his high school career at the private boarding school, Fagan suggested to specifically time the visit around practice.
“Guys would ask about his work ethic and what he does. Mac’s biggest thing was when getting him in 7-on-7 or team activities, he performed,” recalled Fagan when reached on the phone one day last week. “You get him out of the classroom and he’s got a tie on. He’s a slight kid at the time … not really big. He doesn’t come across as someone from the CrossFit world.”
Just watch Jones on the practice field. If Fagan had a nickel for every time he heard the late Corky Rogers – football head coach at Bolles for 28 seasons – explain that to a college coach who was eyeing his quarterback, that seeing was truly believing, he would likely be sitting on a good-sized fortune.
Today, that same quarterback is an NFL rookie who’s set to break new ground – at least as far as the New England Patriots are concerned. In Jones, the list of rookie quarterbacks who have started the season opener under Bill Belichick’s two-decade (and growing) tenure is set to welcome its first entry.
Needless to say, it’s a long way from taking snaps at Bolles, a school that Jones enrolled in for pre-kindergarten and did not leave until receiving his high school diploma.
Jones had a second bite of the recruiting apple after pulling back on his July 2015 verbal pledge to the University of Kentucky.
“The [Kentucky] guy who recruited him took another job. That was his guy,” said Fagan.
When word reached Alabama that Jones was back on the open market, the Crimson Tide put on a full-court press. Lane Kiffin, Alabama’s offensive coordinator at the time, visited Bolles. Head coach Nick Saban brought his national championship caché via a helicopter ride to Jacksonville. Representatives from the University of Texas and Texas A&M showed their level of interest after arriving on a helicopter as well.
“It ended up being a big to-do if you will,” said Fagan, reflecting on Saban’s visit. “We had Saban come by a few times. He really liked Mac. Brent Key was the [Alabama coach] who recruited Mac the most. He was the offensive line coach. Now he’s at Georgia Tech.”
At Bolles, Jones went from junior varsiy contributor as a freshman to varsity backup as a sophomore. He was handed the keys as The Bolles School’s starting QB heading into his junior season. He proceeded to tightly cling to them during the 2015 and 2016 seasons – two campaigns where he passed for a combined 55 touchdowns and took his team deep into the playoffs.
“He’s a kid who’s always been interested in football. Breaking down a game like it was a Madden [video] game, that’s just the mentality that he always had,” said Fagan, who rattled off a few intangibles that undoubtedly piqued the Patriots’ fancy when speaking about the high school version of Jones.
“He always had a good arm and always knew where to throw the ball,” said Fagan. “There were a few games where he threw interceptions at key times, but he never got down. He kept plugging along. It didn’t affect him detrimentally.”
In addition to coaching Jones, Fagan had the future national NCA champion and NFL first-round pick in a couple of study halls. Fagan was also Jones’ driver’s ed instructor.
“He did all right,” said Fagan. “He was a regular guy. It wasn’t like, ‘Ohh, there’s Mac Jones.’”
The Mac Jones who went to Alabama did so as an individual who needed to put significant meat on a 175-pound frame. The Patriots list Jones at 6-foot-3 and 217 pounds.
“As a college freshman, I don’t know if he weighed over 200 pounds,” said Fagan. “He ended up being the guy [at Alabama] and the rest is history.”
An NFL scout isn’t performing a thorough job if they aren’t reaching out to those who interacted with a draft hopeful. It doesn’t matter how far back the coach worked with the player in question. No stone should be left unturned when an investment complete with numerous dollar signs attached to it is on the verge of being made.
So it was with Fagan, who fielded numerous inquiries about Jones leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft.
“They would call and ask questions about what he did and about his attitude … anything and everything. Are there red flags?” said Fagan. “Mac graduated [from Alabama] in three years with a four-year degree. In the fourth year, he went for his masters [in business administration]. He was a brilliant kid. In high school, he got things done.”
Watching Jones during the preseason with the Patriots, it was clear to Fagan that New England was running plays that were a chip off the old block from his days with the Crimson Tide.
“The routes were similar and the packages when he was in the shotgun were similar. It was pretty close to what he did,” said Fagan. “They’re setting him up for success early. He’s got some weapons to throw to.”
At Bolles, Jones operated out of the Wing-T system, albeit with an interesting caveat that deviated from its run-centric premise.
“We threw out of the Wing-T,” said Fagan. “We had him under center. Alabama had him more in the shotgun. It looks like he’s going to do a lot of that in New England as well.”
Fagan says he would be shocked to learn if Jones has taken off more than one day from sticking his nose in the playbook upon getting drafted by the Patriots.
“He’s a cerebral kid who can read things,” said Fagan.
The news of his former star pupil starting the season as New England's QB1 prompted Fagan to reach out to Jones.
"I told him how proud I am of him," said Fagan. “Personally, I was hoping he would sit for a little bit and gain some experience, but I know he wanted to jump right in."
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03