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Watauga shortstop Utah Jones (middle) verbally committed to play baseball for the 2016 season.

Originally published: 2014-07-16 18:32:29
Last modified: 2014-07-17 09:42:08

Utah Jones verbally commits to North Carolina

by Steve Behr Sports Editor

It's no secret that Utah Jones comes from a baseball family.


Understandably, Jones wanted to make his own baseball statement and create his own base path. He did that July 10 by verbally committing to play baseball at North Carolina for the 2016 season. A rising senior at Watauga High, Jones tweeted his announcement while he was in Georgia.


"It's a big weight off my shoulders," Jones said.


Jones' father, Billy Jones, is the head baseball coach at Appalachian State. He's also been an assistant coach at Oklahoma State, and is heavily involved in recruiting for the upcoming 2015 season.


Utah's brother, Ryder, was drafted in the second round of the 2012 Major League Baseball amateur draft by the San Francisco Giants. He signed with Stanford during his senior season at Watauga, and tied the record with 11 home runs. He also batted .461.


Those are tough acts to follow for Utah Jones, who played shortstop and pitched for Watauga's baseball team this spring. He pitched Watauga to a victory over McDowell in the first round of the state 4-A playoffs by shutting down the Titans in the final five innings of a 8-6 win in 11 innings.


Jones followed by having an outstanding summer playing for the Dirtbags "All Blacks," an 17-under elite travel team in North Carolina.


Jones said North Carolina watched Jones play as early as last year and kept pursing him by watching him play several times this summer. Once Jones made an official visit, he was convinced he wanted to be a Tar Heel.


"They saw me play last summer in Fort Myers, Fla., and kind of stayed consistent with me," Jones said. "They e-mailed me and I contacted them through the phone. We talked a couple of times and they came and watched me play about six or seven times. I went on a visit there and they offered and it felt right."


Jones was recruited by several programs, including Appalachian State, North Carolina State, UNC Wilmington, Ohio University, Nebraska, Liberty and Coastal Carolina. Billy Jones said his assistant coaches handled most of the recruiting of Utah before the head coach made his final pitch.


But Billy Jones wanted Utah to make up his own mind. Billy Jones would have been happy to have Utah play at Appalachian State, but only if the rising Watauga senior wanted to be there.


"In the end, I decided that I want to make a name for myself," Utah Jones said. "I want to try to do it on my own."


"Everybody has asked that question, and we recruited Utah like everybody else did," Billy Jones said. "Our assistants recruited him hard. He had a list of schools and it came down to us and North Carolina. In the very end, I jumped in. As a dad, I told him what I thought and then as a coach, I recruited him like everybody else. From day one, I told him that it's your call."


Billy Jones had some experience in this area in the past while he was an assistant coach at Oklahoma State. His son Ryder Jones was being heavily recruited, and ended up committing to Stanford.


Ryder ended up at Stanford, but chose to sign with the Giants after being drafted. Utah Jones got some advice from his older brother about the recruiting process.


"I talked to him a lot about it," he said. "I asked for his advice and everything and Carolina even called him about me and Ryder just agreed with me that it was the right place to go."


Utah Jones said he would be playing shortstop for North Carolina. "I don't throw hard enough to pitch at North Carolina," he said.


"I've been playing there my whole life," he said. "That is where I want to stay."


Jones said has two tournaments left with the Dirtbags. The team plays in a tournament at Gardner-Webb and another tournament in Raleigh.


Jones' work-ethic during the summer season has made a big difference in his game. He has gained 10 pounds through lifting weights, and wants to be around 170-pounds by the fall.


He is also seeing some of the top baseball the state of North Carolina can offer. Jones is playing with several players on the Dirtbags who have made early commitments to colleges.


Three of his teammates -- pitcher/first baseman Logan Welch (A.C. Reynolds), outfielder Brandon Riley (Burlington Williams) and right-handed pitcher J.R. Rogoszewski (Hurricane WVa.) have committed to North Carolina, according to the Dirtbags' website.


Another three -- outfielder Beau Myers (Wesleyan Christian), outfielder Darryl Johnson (Harnett Central) and left-handed pitcher Bobby Hampton (C.B. Aycock) have committed to Appalachian State.