Photo Credit: Orlando Sentinel
It has been over a week since the East Carolina Pirates wrapped up their disappointing season with a 37-10 loss to the Temple Owls on Saturday, November 26th, 2016, and with a 3-9 record, they never had a chance to make a bowl game this season. Now that the bowl schedule is official and the Pirates will officially watch the games from home, it is only appropriate to reflect on the career of one of the NCAA’s greatest yet most underappreciated wide receivers of all time.
Isaiah “Zay” Jones, 21, spent all four of his years as an NCAA football player as a member of the East Carolina Pirates. He improved in receptions and receiving yards in each of his first three seasons, but he was never truly a superstar until this past season, when he improved a lot. In fact, he became one of the greatest wide receivers in the history of NCAA football this past season. However, because he doesn’t play for a big school but for East Carolina, his amazing accomplishments are underappreciated by many people. Unfortunately, his name may not be familiar to many people either.
This past season, Jones broke the all-time record for receptions in a single season with 158. He caught 158 passes this season, which broke Freddie Barnes’ record from the 2009 season of 155 receptions when Barnes played for the Bowling Green State Falcons. He broke the record with the 5th reception of his 7-reception performance against Temple in the final game of his NCAA career. Only 16 other players in all of the NCAA had over half as many receptions as Jones had this season, which goes to show how statistically remarkable his 2016 season was. He also led all NCAA football players with 1,746 receiving yards, a total that was 160 yards more than the next highest player and 264 yards more than the next highest player who played in only 12 games this season like he did.
In terms of his career, Jones came into this past season having caught a total of 241 passes. With the 158 receptions he had this past season, he ended his career with 399 receptions, the most of any player in NCAA football history. He broke 2014 East Carolina graduate and current Atlanta Falcons’ wide receiver Justin Hardy’s record of 387 receptions with the 8th reception of his 12-reception performance against the Navy Midshipmen back on Saturday, November 19th, 2016.
This career reception record that Jones now possesses is one that will likely stand for a while, as the next closest active non-senior on the list of leaders in all-time receptions is Clemson Tigers’ Junior wide receiver Artavis Scott, who has hauled in 240 passes over the first three seasons of his NCAA football career. Scott is tied for 88th on the all-time list for career receptions. However, Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders’ wide receiver Richie James is tied for 208th on the all-time career reception list with 205 receptions, and he has only played in the NCAA for two seasons, so he is probably the most realistic challenger to Jones’ new record in the near future. After all, he is on pace for 410 receptions, which would be enough to break the record of 399 recently set by Jones.
Jones ends his illustrious NCAA football career holding those two reception record and currently sitting 12th on the all-time list for receiving yards with 4,279. His 399 receptions, 4,279 receiving yards, and 23 receiving touchdowns make him one of the best wide receivers that the NCAA has ever seen, yet because he played for such a small school, not many people know his name despite the fact that he holds the single season and the all-time receptions record in NCAA football.