For one of the last times during the recruiting process -- maybe the last time -- the phone of Nacogdoches safety Brandon Jones buzzed in the early moments of National Signing Day, about eight hours or so before Jones was set to announce his decision on ESPNU. Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong was on the other end.
"Where you at?" Strong asked, not trying to pressure, just trying to communicate.
"I don't know, coach. I don't know if I'm going to be able to sleep tonight," Jones replied.
While it's not clear whether Jones actually did sleep that night, at some point after Strong called, in those early hours of Wednesday morning, the former five-star prospect came to his decision. When it came time to announce a few short hours later, Jones lingered before delivering the final critical words in his statement, "I decided for the next four years, I will be furthering my education and my football career to..."
For the next 10 interminable seconds, live on television across the world, he freed a lone hat from a black bag.
It was burnt orange, with a silver snap strap and sparkling silver thread on the logo.
"...The University of Texas," Jones finished, already drowned out by celebratory cheers from those in attendance at his high school, having chosen the Longhorns over the Texas A&M Aggies and Baylor Bears, his other two finalists.
Meanwhile, in Austin, the coaches were also going wild in celebration.
Most of them, at least. One of the best visuals from the Texas coaches on National Signing Day was tight ends coach Jeff Traylor sitting deep in thought with no outward reaction to the decision by Jones as the other staff members celebrated. Perhaps the National Letter of Intent was already in hand from Jones. Perhaps Traylor just knew that he had put in the necessary work to win out over the Aggies. A pretty penny or two for those thoughts, indeed.
"My decision was made last night and last night was the first time that I was able to think of stuff on my own," Jones told AggieYell after his announcement. "I was talking to my mom and all three schools are really good schools and I've really enjoyed everything they've done for me. I really loved all the coaching staffs, so it was just one thing that separated them from each other.
"I just felt more at home, honestly, at UT."
Traylor himself had played a critical role in Jones feeling that way at Texas.
"He kinda took that place as a father figure and he was always there for me," said Jones, who recently lost his own father to cancer.
As calm as Traylor looked during that exultant moment, the process was likely much more difficult for him this year than it was last year, when he was *merely* the high school coach receiving calls about where his star cornerback Kris Boyd was going to go. The irony wasn't lost on Strong.
"I told Traylor that last year you were on the other side because you had Kris Boyd and we kept calling you, 'What's he going to do? Now you have Brandon [Jones] and now you try and what's he going to do?'"
More than just the fact that Texas was able to land the consensus top safety in the country, winning the critical recruiting battle against Texas A&M, the longtime favorites with Jones, was even more crucial for the Longhorns after the Aggies mostly dominated the East Texas region in the 2015 cycle, securing signatures from Piney Woods stars like defensive tackle Daylon Mack, safety Larry Pryor, and safety/outside linebacker Justin Dunning.
"You look at him coming out of Nacogdoches," Strong said. "It was important for us to get out into East Texas, and to go into East Texas and get us one. He is going to be a really unbelievable player for us."
Since "unbelievable" is the go-to superlative for Strong when discussing any subject, it's not always the most precise word for him. But Jones truly has a chance to be an unbelievable player for the Longhorns -- he possesses a rare combination of poise, the mental and emotional makeup to succeed, the drive to continuously strive to improve, and the physical skills that make such lofty projections possible.
As an athlete, it's instructive to watch Jones playing with the ball in his hands in the return game and on offense as a senior after missing most of his junior season due to injury. The result? Eight touchdowns on offense and special teams, including a 59-yard touchdown run against Corsicana.
If Jones' elite-level agility on defense wasn't enough to declare him a superb athlete, it doesn't take much time watching his senior film to see it on offense and special teams. He can stop-start, take the edge, show some physicality by breaking tackles with leg drive and stiff arms, and finish with touchdowns due to a combination of top-end speed and pure desire.
On defense, he returned to his sophomore form, notching 124 tackles, including 16 tackles for loss, and two interceptions. Is Jones the deep safety to serve as the last line of defense and ballhawk on deep passes with his sensational range or the in-box safety capable of blowing up screen passes and running plays near the line of scrimmage. The answer may actually be both.
And even if Jones only ends up excelling in one of those areas, which seems unlikely, he will still bring tremendous value to Strong's secondary, as he can run and strike, alternately wrapping up and driving defenders back and delivering big strikes as an enforcer over the middle, along there, or wherever he may find . Instincts, closing speed, it's all there.
Sometimes, the best plays are the little ones -- in one highlight, the Nacogdoches opponent opts to sky kick away from Jones, who sprints up the sideline to decleat an opponent with one block, then finds another target, still at full speed.
As a sophomore, he ran a 4.56 40-yard dash at the Houston NFTC, posting a 4.36 shuttle and a 34-inch vertical as well. As a junior, he ran a 10.78 100m, and based on his senior film, it wouldn't be a surprise if he could now best all of those numbers -- that's just how hard he trains. In any case, his film speaks in a louder and more strident language than any testing numbers need to for Jones.
As the consensus No. 40 prospect nationally and the No. 1 safety, Jones is the highest-rated pledge in the 2016 class for Texas and although he may not be the most crucial addition to the 24-man group, the line in front of Jones is not a long one. In the Internet era of recruiting, he's the highest-rated safety the Longhorns have landed besides Drew Kelson in 2004. Kelson was the No. 1 safety and the No. 28 prospect overall, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. Just a little perspective there -- he's arguably the most important safety signee for the Longhorns in well more than a decade.
Since the Longhorns desperately need an upgrade at both safety positions from what Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford received last year from starters Jason Hall and Dylan Haines, Jones has an excellent chance to play early and often for Texas. And all signs point to the Nacogdoches product maximizing his unbelievable talent and joining the long line of greats at DBU.