As Robby Toma walked off the field for the last time as a college player, he had a message for senior-to-be T.J. Jones: lead them next year.
For Jones, that role began to come into focus in 2012.
I knew once the senior class graduated that a lot of eyes were going to be on me as a leader, Jones said. I tried to lead this team as a junior, and next year I plan to be the leader of this offense, just with my experience being a senior and being in the role Ive played in the offense these last three years, I feel its only necessary.
Notre Dame is losing three of its four pillars from the 2012 locker room next year, with only offensive lineman Zack Martin returning among the teams captains. Gone, too, are seniors Braxston Cave, Theo Riddick and Zeke Motta, among others.
Replacing Manti Teos presence in the locker room wont be easy -- obviously, neither will replacing his presence on the field, too -- seeing as this was a linebacker who calmed down quarterback Everett Golson at Oklahoma, the site of Notre Dames biggest win of 2012.
Whereas Teo, Martin, Tyler Eifert and Kapron Lewis-Moore were impact guys, Jones hasnt proven to be that over his first three years at Notre Dame. Solid is a better descriptor, as the undersized Jones caught 50 passes for 649 yards and four touchdowns in 2012.
His ball skills are ridiculous, gushed offensive coordinator Chuck Martin. It's hard to throw a ball he won't catch for you. He's a great route runner. He's super quick. He understands the game, he's tough. He has all the traits.
One of those traits, too, is in his leadership ability. Its one Notre Dame will count on next year, as its underclassmen look to a new crop of seniors for guidance.
He's really set the tone as leadership for our offense how he practices every day, Martin said, which is what we're most thankful for him because we knew he could play.