Ryan Jones both is and is not a normal teenager.
He’s 16 and wears a retainer over his top teeth. He works part-time at a local Home Goods store, and he likes to play video games in his free time.
In that respect, he is very much normal.
But on the football field, the 6-foot-2 Jones is anything but.
There, he’s one of the best players on a Mallard Creek team hungry for its fourth consecutive 4-AA state championship. He’s also one of the top players in the state.
It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say he’s one of the best high school wide receivers in the entire country.
One thing in mind
Jones’ talents were on display Friday, where he and some of Mallard Creek’s players competed in the Carolina Panthers 7-on-7 High School Passing Tournament.
“He can do about anything on the football field,” coach Michael Palmieri said of Jones. “He’s gonna be a big playmaker for us this year.”
Last season, Jones snagged 23 passes for 679 yards and seven touchdowns. He also ran for over 100 yards and another score.
Then, he committed to North Carolina this offseason amongst a handful of offers from top programs, including Oklahoma and Clemson. The four star player is currently listed by ESPN as the second-best player in North Carolina in the 2017 class.
With his college decision set, Jones can focus on his senior season. Or more importantly, the one thing he wants to accomplish this season.
“Win a state championship,” he said. “That’s really all I want for my senior year.”
New roles and new faces
Last season, Mallard Creek sported a number of pass-catchers as it marched to the title. This year, Jones is the guy.
The question is whether or not he’ll be able to adjust to his new role.
“He’s gonna mentally have to get a little stronger,” Palmieri said, “because they’re gonna try to take him away, so it’s our job to make sure that we figure out different ways how to get him the ball.”
But in addition to a new role on the team, Jones will have get used to the new faces on the roster. Among them: quarterback Chauncey Caldwell.
Caldwell transferred from Durham Hillside to Mallard Creek in the offseason, where he is expected to replace three-year graduated starter James Smith.
“Just getting adjusted to the way the new quarterback throws and everything,” Jones said. “I think we’ll be fine come season time.”
The chemistry between Smith and Jones took years to foster, but the Mavericks have just two months before their season starts. There may be some kinks at the start, as there were during Friday’s tournament, but there’s a long way to go before the state playoffs.
By then, it’ll be up to Jones to help deliver his school one final state title.
And with the career he’s already had, that would be perfectly normal.
▪ Mallard Creek won its first game of the afternoon’s tournament against Page before falling to eventual winners Westside in the semifinals.
▪ Jones dropped a touchdown pass in the endzone, but he was open on the majority of his routes.
▪ Westside took the decisive lead over the Mavericks on a deep pass down the right sideline. Westside’s quarterback pumped the ball before he threw it, faking out the Mallard Creek defender.