Riyahd Jones' long journey to SEC has unlikely ending at Tennessee

Butch Jones on practice five and the first scrimmage

Marlon Walls on the Vols' fifth practice of spring

Evan Woodbery on the Vols' fifth practice of spring

Riyahd Jones never expected his two-year odyssey from high school to the SEC would end at Tennessee. In early December, the Vols weren’t even on his radar screen. Days later, he was making plans to enroll immediately.

Two years of enduring the bumpy life of a recruit on the SEC margins had taught Jones to take nothing for granted.

When Tennessee offered, he said yes. Formalities like campus visits could wait. His dream was within reach, and he wasn’t going to let it slip away.

“I’ve been working for this my whole life,” Jones said. “It worked out. And it’s a blessing.”

How it worked out is a long story, and it’s one that Jones doesn’t mind telling. The tale is a triumph of Jones’ persistent and perhaps stubborn belief that he was good enough to play with the big boys.

A prospect at Carver High School in Columbus, Ga., Jones was committed to Kentucky for seven months, he said, but his scholarship offer was yanked late in the game and the remaining options were less than enticing.

He had a handful of Division I offers in the MAC, but preferred to stay in the South, even at a Championship Subdivision school.

“I didn’t want to go way up north to UMass or Ball State,” he said. “So I went to Georgia Southern.”

Jones started as a true freshman, but yearned for more.

“I just felt like I could do better,” he said. “I’ve been working hard playing football my entire life, pushing myself, and I felt like I could do better.”

He went to Garden City Community College in Kansas, intent on improving his stock for one season and then reopening his recruitment as a junior college player.

But as he packed up his belongings to leave the school last winter, his final college destination was still uncertain.

Initially, Auburn seemed like the best hope of reaching his SEC goal.

Jones’ hometown was just across the state line from Auburn, and he had developed a good relationship with assistants Willie Martinez and Tommy Thigpen. The Tigers were recruiting him, and Jones was hopeful.

Then Auburn’s season went down the tubes, the entire coaching staff was fired and Jones began feeling a sense of déjà vu.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he said.

This time the college football gods that had been so cruel two years earlier worked in Jones’ favor. Martinez landed a job at Tennessee under longtime colleague Butch Jones. Thigpen joined, too.

Tennessee needed help in the secondary, and Martinez knew where to find it.

“He called me a week after he got hired to let me know that he wanted me to play here,” Jones said. “It’s been a long journey, being dropped by schools, picked back up by other schools. It’s been a long two years. Without Coach Martinez, I wouldn’t be here.”

Jones will have a chance to compete for a starting job at cornerback, and he’s already drawn praise from coaches and moved — at least temporarily — into a first-team spot.

He’s also drawn attention for his charismatic personality. On Twitter, he became known for providing an afternoon news report to his followers. Some of the news was real, some was made up and some was a bit of both.

Jones also was chosen to narrate a UT video describing how players are fitted for pads.

“That’s just my personality off the field,” he said. “They call me the joker at home. I’m only serious when it’s time to be serious. In class, I’m serious. On the field, I’m serious. Off the field or on Twitter, I’m a goofball. That’s how it is.”

When Jones turns to his serious side, however, he displays the type of confidence befitting of a cornerback who is constantly under the gun.

“When it comes to one-on-ones, I take it seriously,” he said. “I take it personally when a receiver catches the ball ... When the pads come on, that’s when y’all are going to see the beast. I’m just getting started.”

Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.

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Comments » 22

snowpeapod#263184 writes:

I absolutely love this young man's attitude. He's a classic example of the old saying, when life gives you a lemon, make lemonade.

VolGrad writes:

Riyahd seems like he's got his head on straight. I like. We need more like him in the DB.

Go Vols!

tovolny writes:

His attitude is at a high latitude...I bet the kid makes us a good one.

By the way, my cousin's adopted son (plays linebacker) says that Groom is better this year than Patterson was last year. He was hurt last year, so I don't know much about him. Haven't seen much about him this spring...does anybody know what the word is?

pingkr62 writes:

A good attitude combined with a good work ethic. Welcome to the Vol Nation! G.B.O.!!!

nocleats writes:

in response to tovolny:

His attitude is at a high latitude...I bet the kid makes us a good one.

By the way, my cousin's adopted son (plays linebacker) says that Groom is better this year than Patterson was last year. He was hurt last year, so I don't know much about him. Haven't seen much about him this spring...does anybody know what the word is?

Groom = Croom?

Snapshot writes:

in response to snowpeapod#263184:

I absolutely love this young man's attitude. He's a classic example of the old saying, when life gives you a lemon, make lemonade.

Agreed, you got to pull for a kid like him. Just hope he can help improve the secondary.

ACWLY writes:

Sometimes good things do happen to good people!

Show-me-your-TDs writes:

snot bubbles please

123forVOLS writes:

I hope we see R. Jones beastily on the field this fall. The defensive secondary needs the leadership and example. The long journey ends on Rocky Top. Go Jones, Go Big Orange!

SouthPaVol writes:

Really like where our defense is going. We needed a pass-rushing DE with a quick first step--we now have two freshmen coming in. We needed a third linebacker--Brewer moved to LB last week, plus JR-M. We needed a lock-down corner--hoping R Jones can fit the bill; if so, our defense is looking good. Go Vols!

HtownVol writes:

I am of course hoping the best of Jones but there is something that scares me. His stats at JUCO.
22 Tackles...huh?
Maybe they knew he was a lock down defender and never went to his side of the field. Averaging 2 tackles per game is not impressive. Even Darell Revis gets 7-8 tackles per game and he is never thrown at.
Lets just hope there is much more to this than I can see. Likely is.
I do know that in this next recruiting class there needs to be a priority on defense. AJ JOhnson will leave early most likely and we will be very thin at every level on defense. No Mount McCullers No AJ. Who will be the leader on defense. Of Course I am way ahead of myself on this but I sure hope this staff can sign the 4-5 star recruits on the D-Line also. That is where UT has been hurt for so many years now.
GO VOLS

NorthwestVol writes:

Nice story. Hope it works out for the young man as well as the Vols.

UTvols33 writes:

Good luck to Riyahd. I hope he is the "beast" he says he is.

Side note: I hate it when writers reference "gods" in any way. "The football gods," the "basketball gods," the "baseball gods." Such a stupid and played out reference. Who is their target audience? Ancient Greeks or Romans?

SCVFL writes:

in response to NorthwestVol:

Nice story. Hope it works out for the young man as well as the Vols.

Love his attitude and hope he can back it up with his play. VOLS definitely need help at the corners and he could be the exact recipe.
GO BIG RNG...VFL(VOL FAN for LIFE)

tovolny writes:

in response to nocleats:

Groom = Croom?

Thanks...LOL...maybe the "G" is why, right?

My sources say he runs faster and jumps higher than Patterson. I hope this correct information, because we need the double coverage attracting player. However, we do have some good, solid receivers

FanNotSheep writes:

JUCOs for quick fix, 4- and 5-star high school athletes for long haul. I love it, please continue!

Pompey writes:

in response to tovolny:

His attitude is at a high latitude...I bet the kid makes us a good one.

By the way, my cousin's adopted son (plays linebacker) says that Groom is better this year than Patterson was last year. He was hurt last year, so I don't know much about him. Haven't seen much about him this spring...does anybody know what the word is?

...all I know is that Groom came to Tennessee highly touted, but if he can run a route he will be a better receiver than Patterson.

volvann writes:

in response to HtownVol:

I am of course hoping the best of Jones but there is something that scares me. His stats at JUCO.
22 Tackles...huh?
Maybe they knew he was a lock down defender and never went to his side of the field. Averaging 2 tackles per game is not impressive. Even Darell Revis gets 7-8 tackles per game and he is never thrown at.
Lets just hope there is much more to this than I can see. Likely is.
I do know that in this next recruiting class there needs to be a priority on defense. AJ JOhnson will leave early most likely and we will be very thin at every level on defense. No Mount McCullers No AJ. Who will be the leader on defense. Of Course I am way ahead of myself on this but I sure hope this staff can sign the 4-5 star recruits on the D-Line also. That is where UT has been hurt for so many years now.
GO VOLS

Confused a little by your post. Darrelle Revis had 11 total tackles this year. Safeties are typically used for run stopping. Corners are usually chasing their receiver, so they don't get that many tackles.

Govols..

pingkr62 writes:

in response to volvann:

Confused a little by your post. Darrelle Revis had 11 total tackles this year. Safeties are typically used for run stopping. Corners are usually chasing their receiver, so they don't get that many tackles.

Govols..

If your corners are having to make a lot of tackles, It usually means the D-line and Line backers aren't getting the job done. J.M.O.

fratricide08 writes:

Regardless of talent and in Riyahd's case I think the talent is certainly there as a big bonus, you need people like this on a team that is filled with highly touted recruits who knew they were going to a big time school no matter what. These guys compete with all heart and it often sets an example for others who haven't had to fight so hard to up and start fighting as well instead of just relying on talent and it also sets an example for walk-on and juco peers who've been in the same overlooked boat. Many of them secretly wonder if they can make it, really compete with guys recruited heavily or given more stars than a general, but they vast majority can if they're willing to work. They wouldn't be here if our coaches didn't believe they could compete.

VolsFan82 writes:

I can't wait to see the beast unleashed this year! This young man has talent, outstanding charector, great work ethic, wonderful attitude and a sense of humor. We need more guys like him on the team! GBO!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to UTvols33:

Good luck to Riyahd. I hope he is the "beast" he says he is.

Side note: I hate it when writers reference "gods" in any way. "The football gods," the "basketball gods," the "baseball gods." Such a stupid and played out reference. Who is their target audience? Ancient Greeks or Romans?

Figure of speech; no literal meaning intended. Besides, it avoids implying that THE GOD cares about football, except in the sense of caring about football PLAYERS as moral beings.

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