UNION — Kalay Jones made his decision to play football at Gardner-Webb University official on Wednesday morning when he signed his letter of intent.
“I’ve always wanted to play college football,” said Jones, a wide-receiver at Union County High School. “I’m really excited because I think I have a good chance to play there as a freshman and I plan on doing a lot work over the summer to better my skills and just keep going strong.”
The 6’3 185-pound wide-out caught the eye of Bulldogs’ recruiting coach Kyle Dickerson in the spring of 2011 and in turn was offered a full scholarship to attend the school.
“We evaluated Kalay in the spring and we really liked him,” said Dickerson. “We got a chance to meet him and Coach Taneyhill and thought he’d be a good addition to our program. Our receiving core was a little down this year and we think Kalay can help us there.”
Jones had 68 catches for 1,194 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior, assisting Union County to a AAA State Championship appearance.
He plans to enroll in summer classes at Gardner Webb and will be a semester ahead in the fall.
“They wanted him to get in there early, so that tells you they think he can play,” said Union County Coach Steve Taneyhill. “I think they probably see what I saw when I first got here — This kid has a lot of talent and he played awful good this year. He deserves this.”
Dickerson said with Jones’ size and skill level, he could see playing time at any of the four wide-receiver positions once he gets to Gardner-Webb.
“He needs to be out there somewhere,” said Dickerson. “That kid’s a good all around receiver with speed and good hands. I’m sure he’ll play somewhere his first year.”
The Bulldogs will be under new direction next year having lured Carroll McCray from North Greenville to be the head coach at his alma mater. McCray employs a spread offense that Jones will not only be familiar with but should excel in.
“Coach T kind of introduced Kalay to the spread offense this year and he really thrived,” said UCHS wide-receivers coach Cam Willis. “Where ever they put him — inside receiver, outside receiver — it doesn’t matter, he’s going to work hard and do well. I think he’s got a good chance to play early on.”
In addition to the familiarity of the offensive scheme, Jones will also have the benefit of playing for one of Taneyhill’s college coaches. In 1992, when Tanyhill was calling the signals at the University of South Carolina, McCray was an offensive line coach.
“I feel good about Kalay playing for Coach McCray,” said Taneyhill. “He’s a really good guy and I like him a lot. Also, any time coaches go back to the school they graduated from, I think they work a little harder. This is a good situation for Kalay to be going into.”
His coaches at UCHS recognized Jones for being self-motivated and hard-working, traits that his parents, Kevin and Denise are proud that their son possesses.
“We’ve always told Kalay that hard work pays off,” said Kevin. “I stay on him about his work ethic, being a team player and just playing the game the right way. I think that’s what he’s done. To see him doing the things he’s doing on the field and in the classroom this year and being so well respected by the community — that’s big for us as parents.”
Kevin, who played football at Jonesville High School from 1983 to 1985, said he’d always hoped Kalay would inherit his passion for the sport. At the age of six, he signed his son up for flag football with the Union Recreation Department.
“I said, ‘OK, we’re going to play some football,’” Kevin recalled with a smile. “But all he wanted to do was play in the dirt and throw rocks — made me so mad. To get from that point to where he is now has been a remarkable thing.”
Denise said that Kalay has tried just about every sport there is.
A member of the UCHS basketball team, he played his final game on Tuesday night and led the team with 13 points, the same number he wears on his jersey.
Kalay has also lettered in baseball and track but football is the sport that Denise says her son is passionate about.
“Kalay is a good kid but when he gets on that field it’s like he goes into another gear,” she said. “It’s what he loves. We’ve always told him to go out there and do his best, that’s all we can ask for. He’s done that and we are proud.”