How Did Wyoming Land North Carolina Running Back DJ Jones?
LARAMIE -- It pays to have friends in this business.
Just ask Wyoming's current coaching staff.
How else would you find your next running back, a guy who played all the way across the country at the University of North Carolina and actually made the position switch to the Tar Heels' secondary last fall?
The story of how DJ Jones was discovered is not all that complicated.
Former Wyoming's defensive tackles coach Oscar Giles was on Mac Brown's staff at Texas. Brown is now entering his sixth season on the sidelines in Chapel Hill. A phone call was made, but it wasn't Jones the Cowboys had their eye on at first.
"There was another back that went into the portal and we were kind of looking at him," said Gordie Haug, UW's Executive Director of Recruiting and the team's running backs coach. "... They said, look at that kid, but this DJ kid, you guys really need to look at. I know he's playing defense right now, but go back and look at his tape."
They immediately saw why programs like Michigan, Missouri, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Wake Forest, and a whole other host of schools, offered the former three-star prospect from Fayetteville, N.C.
"He can move," Haug said of the 5-foot-11, 200-pound senior. "He's twitchy, he's fast, he's solid. I mean, he's a grown man. It's a good thing to get him."
"He's a really good football player that's going to help us in a lot of ways," new head coach Jay Sawvel added.
There's another word that came up repeatedly when Jones was mentioned: "Character."
That might help one understand why Jones would vacate the running back room after rolling up 442 yards on the ground over his first three seasons at UNC before accepting a move to safety.
Though a broken foot and ankle injuries ailed him, Jones still averaged nearly five yards per carry and found the end zone three times, including once through the air.
Jones, then a freshman, started in the backfield for the Tar Heels in the 2021 Orange Bowl.
He made 15 tackles, including 12 solo stops, last fall as the last line of defense.
"He's at North Carolina, where they have a boatload of running backs that are all NFL-talent type of guys, and for him to be able to stick in there and then be open to switching positions just tells you how competitive and how much he's a team guy," Haug said, adding that both of Jones' parents are in the military. "I think a lot of times people are so infatuated with skill sets and things like that, they forget a little bit about character.
"That's the one thing that he brings us. He's going to be a guy that's going to earn everything. He's not going to be expected to be given anything."
Jones will join a talented Wyoming backfield led by Harrison Waylee, who rushed for 947 yards in just 10 games in 2023. Dawaiian McNeely is also expected to return after missing last fall with a torn ACL. Jamari Ferrell and Sam Scott also received work out of the Cowboys' backfield.
Sawvel and Co. signed freshman Nico Hamilton and Dontae Burch, along with Jones, in its 2024 recruiting class.
University of Wyoming’s Top 50 Football Players
Gallery Credit: 7220Sports.com
- University of Wyoming’s Top 50 Football Players