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With late recruiting push, Virginia lands commitment from Hillsborough defensive end DJ Jones

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The combination of his patience paired with Virginia’s delayed entry into the quest to land him were right for Hillsborough High School (Tampa, Fla.) defensive end DJ Jones.

He committed to the Cavaliers on Monday — less than one week removed, he said, from the initial inquiry the Hoos made.

“They were definitely late,” to show interest, said Jones, who was considering Iowa State, Kansas, South Florida, Temple, West Virginia and Howard before he received a message last Tuesday night from UVa director of recruiting Justin Speros.

“It was maybe around 11 o’clock that night that I got a text,” Jones said, “and that’s how the process started. And I’ve always taken [what schools] were in early and from the beginning of my recruitment as something that’s played a big part for me, but as soon as UVa jumped in, it felt like home already. So, I looked past that and saw that they really wanted me and that’s why I wanted to be with them.”

He took an official visit to UVa this past weekend and was able to meet and develop relationships quickly with his future coaches and teammates prior to committing. A crew of staffers — coach Tony Elliott, defensive ends coach Chris Slade, quarterbacks coach Taylor Lamb and running backs coach Keith Gaither — then made a return trek to Hillsborough to see Jones on Tuesday.

“It was amazing,” Jones said of the Cavaliers’ Tuesday morning stop at his high school. “We talked for about an hour and a half in the hot sun.”

He said the feeling was a continuation of everything he experienced during the trip to Charlottesville.

“From the beginning to the end,” Jones said, “it was just great. It was more than what I expected. It felt like a family and felt like a place I could call home for four years and that’s something that played a big role in my commitment and why I committed there.

“The coaches are amazing, and the students — even without the athlete part — are amazing. I got a chance to talk to them about how the school is and they had nothing but positive things to say and I really enjoyed it.”

Jones said he chatted with current Hoos freshman defensive lineman Terrell Jones and offensive lineman Snoop Amaama about the team, their classes and everything else happening within the program at UVa.

DJ Jones credited Terrell Jones, Amaama and Slade with making him comfortable on the visit with the Cavaliers.

“[Slade] is smart and just everything about him is great,” Jones, a 6-foot-5, 240-pounder said, “and he’s a big part of why I decided to commit.”

Jones said there’s plenty to learn from Slade, a former UVa standout who this past season coached Cavaliers defensive ends Chico Bennett Jr. and Kam Butler to successful campaigns. Bennett racked up seven sacks and Butler had three under Slade’s watch.

“First, I’ll start without the football part,” Jones said. “I’ll start with life. Coach Slade can teach me about how to be a man, how to grow in society, be better in society, how to do things in business, how to talk to people in a respectful way and ask for things in a respectful way and deal with things when things don’t go your way.

“Then on the field, his football IQ is incredible and learning moves from him, techniques and so many other things on the field is something I can’t wait for.”

UVa views Jones, he said, as a traditional defensive end as opposed to the bandit spot, which is more of the hybrid outside linebacker-defensive end within defensive coordinator John Rudzinski’s multiple system.

Jones compares his style of play on the line of scrimmage to that of Zachary Carter, a defensive lineman for the Cincinnati Bengals and former star at Hillsborough High School ahead of playing at the University of Florida.

Jones’ plan is to sign with UVa on Dec. 21 when the early signing period opens, he said. He’ll have a signing ceremony at Hillsborough.

“I’m blessed this thing is finally over with,” Jones said, “and I’ve finally found my home. There was a lot of thought behind it, but I’m glad I was able to make my decision and decide on what I wanted to do. I didn’t let another Power Five name or anything like that get in the way. I actually chose the school I really wanted to be at for the next four years.”

Jones is the 16th commitment from a high school senior in UVa’s 2023 recruiting class. The Cavaliers also have pledges from three transfers.

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